We were asked by Rabonim and individuals to see if the Birdsboro poultry plant is considered Li’Mehadrin for those that are makpid on kashrus Li’Mehadrin? Following is a concise short report.
The plant is located in Birdsboro Pennsylvania. It’s a two and a half hour drive from Brooklyn, Monroe, and Monsey, NY. It’s a medium size plant, processing approximately 30,000 chickens @ day. A smaller plant that processes fewer chickens is not necessarily an advantage. In a larger volume plant they will usually have an extra shoichet, an extra Mashgiach, etc. for the just in case. The larger plants can afford to check for צומת הגידין and other issues.
We visited the plant “unannounced” on Tuesday פרשת בא תשע"ז. We were at the plant for some 7 hours. They welcomed the visit; no one seemed uncomfortable with an unannounced visit by one that is very familiar with Shechitas, etc. The Chasam Sofer writes that Shechitas should be inspected unannounced. Reb Moshe, Z”L stated to me that Shechitas that require of me or anyone else appointments prior to a visit are suspect. There are Shechitas that require appointments or they do not allow any visitors at all.
They Shechted and processed that day chicken and hen turkeys. Only Pekin Ducks are processed, Ducks are not done on a daily or weekly, only every few weeks.
Chickens are generally vaccinated for certain diseases. The vaccination is done either under the neck skin or in the upper part of the thigh. Under the neck skin is a concern of puncturing the esophagus which will render it a “treifah”. We observed the needle size and method used for those injections and the concern is minor. The needle does not enter facing the “vaishit”; it goes in on an angle towards the (caudal) back of the chicken. In Israel they preferred the thigh area due to the previous concerns. Lately they realized that the thigh area caused issues with the tendons, etc.
In the USA, the common methods for injections are to inject the fertile eggs. In order not to have any concerns of injecting into the chick, they only inject in the round end of the egg which has an air pocket and inject only up to day 17.
The chickens are picked by hand by grabbing both legs so there are no “buka di’atmah” issues. The chicken arrive by trailer in crates stacked one on top another. There are approximately 12 chickens to a crate depending on the size of the chickens. The crates are taken off the truck by hand, by 2 people (non-Jewish employees supervised by a משגיח.) The crates with chickens are not dropped off the truck or thrown, etc. as that may cause a shailos of טריפה של נפולה.
The crates of live chickens (there were none that appeared to be unhealthy) are put on to a conveyor for transport into the building to the Shechita room. None of the chickens were de-beaked (the beaks cut partially). The beaks are cut if there are peckers at that farm or coop. Chickens will peck each other if they are under stress. Stress is caused either a lack of food or drink, or too crowded or other uncomfortable conditions. If the chickens are hungry they will peck each other on the body and pull off some small feathers. On the other hand if they are pecking because of other stress, they will peck on the head which can cause a ניקב קרום המוח, which is a treifah which we don’t usually check for. We have seen in other plants with de-beaked chickens which may be an issue of concern.
The crates did not have any blood in them which may be caused by pecking, or some other issue of concern. We have found in other processors blood in many of the crates.
The shoichtim arrive Sunday night or Monday morning and usually leave on Thursday afternoon. On occasion they will go home during the week. They must all get a minimum amount of sleep prior to be allowed to shecht. Other plants have the shoichtim live with locally. An issue that may arise is when the shoichtim are living locally, issues at home e.g. Infants crying etc. or coming home from a “mitzvah tantz” in the wee hours of the morning then going to the Shechita without enough sleep.
The chickens are approximately 7-10 weeks old. They are removed from the crates by the workers that pass it on to another worker that hold the wings and legs while resting the body of the chicken on a small table set at the right height for the shoichet’ comfort. There is sufficient amount of light for the shoichet to have a clear view of his area. Note: In Eretz Yisroel many of the Shechitas have the Shoichet hold the chicken in their hand while doing the Shechita, which is very tiring. At the beginning of the Shechita one of the shoichtim spread saw dust, etc. by each area of where the shoichtim shecht for כיסוי הדם.
There is evident a very relaxed atmosphere by the shoichtim and mashgichim, which is extremely important in a Shechita. Some other Shechitas there is evident a tense atmosphere. The Shoichtim are all experienced shoichtim. By other Shechitas there is common to have students / מתלמדים. There are various opinions re: removing the small feathers (hair-like) from the מקום שחיטה prior to the Shechita. The Noda Bi’yehuda addresses the issue of צער בעלי חיים of removing the neck feathers at the מקום שחיטה, concludes that it’s permitted because it’s necessary for the Shechita process. Some shoichtim at Birdsboro either remove the hair like feathers or make a channel and then make the cut at that מקום.
We observed in different Shechitas that require the shoichet to remove the hair like feathers, that the shoichet either does not remove the feathers at all, or just every 4th or 5th one. We observed that some of them that are indeed removing the feathers, that they don’t shecht in that מקום, so we have a serious issue of צער בעלי חיים (מדאוריתא).
The Shechita is made with a very sharp חלף in a wide open angle sloping cut that severs the simonim and the “veridin”. The Shoichet is able to have a good grip on the stationary neck in order to do the Shechita properly. A shoichet must be תוקף אגודל and to visually inspect the simonim that they were severed. The shoichet can visually inspect the simonim as they are literally completely exposed. Another style of Shechita very common in Eretz Yisroel is to make a straight shallow cut with a not very sharp חלף, which can also be a concern of דרסה. The shallow straight cut does not expose the simonim but the shoichet must be תוקף אגודל and push out the simonim for a visual inspection. Note: very often it’s not done, which is a serious shailos of a… In Birdsboro Shechita There is no counting of any miscuts /נבילות. We can’t say that about some other ones. The shoichtim have a sink next to each one with running warm water. They wash the knife on a constant basis, which prevents any feathers or other matter to remain on the spine of the knife which may be a question of חלדה.
Every few minutes a light goes on that signals for the shoichtim to stop and check their sakinim. On occasion the general Rav in charge will check the sakinim as well. The Sakinim are checked “dry” prior to the Shechita or after a break. During the Shechita the bedikas are done “wet”, unless the shoichet used a sharpening stone, then they will make a dry bedika.
In general the knives are of average length and width commonly used for chickens. They are sharpened at even angles on both sides in general. They seldom require a touchup/glett during Shechita. We have observed shoichtim use sakinim that are too large and heavy that may cause serious kashrus issues.
The line moves at an average speed, the shoichtim do not have to work at any certain speed or to fill all of the hooks on the lines.
The chickens are then hung by both legs on a moving line of hooks for the chickens to bleed out completely before the plucking or de-feathering machines. The physical abuse the plucking machines do to the chicken causes many bruises and broken wings or bones which is not a kashrus issue.
The intestines are removed from the chicken cavity “but not detached” and hang out of the chicken for the mashgichim to check the intestines, lungs, liver, dislocations of bones, bruising, etc. for any abnormalities. The Mashgichim are located prior to the government inspectors, therefore even when the inspectors remove certain parts it does not make any question as to the kashrus of the chicken. In most plants the mashgichim are located after the inspectors, which may be an issue at times. When the inspector removes a part of the chicken or disposes of the intestines prior to the mashgichim checking the chicken there is a רעותא. The mashgichim have very comfortable seats with adjustable heights, etc. same seats as the inspectors. They also have mirrors behind the chickens so the Mashgiach can see any issues on the other side of the chicken.
Both lungs are checked by chickens at the beginning of each lot. If they are found problematic they may reject the entire lot, depending on the type and severity. The Mashgichim then check the lungs that are visible when the intestines are removed. By turkeys; both lungs are checked by every turkey.
The System of making sure that no miscuts / נבילה, treif, shailos, etc. get mixed up is very tight control.
They dispose of their Neveilos and treifos. Other plants sell it to a wholesaler and it has already landed up by kosher restaurants & caterers .
The lungs and kidneys, etc. are removed by a vacuum suction while the chicken is on a colored hook. The reason for the 3-5 different colored hooks is to be able to ascertain which worker is being somewhat lax in his suctioning and removal of the lungs & kidneys, etc. There are inspectors to check for that.
The צומת הגידין are checked by every chicken and turkey, even though it’s not common anymore in most USA plants. The cut open every leg for the Mashgiach to do a physical bedika.
The הדחה ראשונה requires also requires שיפשוף rubbing. The tumbler action of the soak tank does the rubbing as well. The water is cold but not too cold that may congeal the blood vessels. Fresh water is constantly flowing in and replacing the tank water. There are no chemicals or additives in the tank water.
The salting process; they use 2 types of salt; One comes from Eretz Yisroel under the עידה ירושל-ם specifically for salting meat and poultry. The other salt is a flake salt that does not melt easily and remains as a salt the entire salting period. Also it does not roll or fall off during the salting process.
It was common for individuals to kasher (soak & salt) their own chicken and meat. The chicken was split open and every area including under the skin and pockets were all salted properly. In the larger commercial operations some have closed-salted while others have open-salted or both. Open salted has issues with ripped / hanging skin that is not salted underneath. Closed salted skin is musty intact and would not have that issue. Birdsboro is closed-salted.
Others prefer frum people to do the salting, while others prefer the non-Jewish workers to do the salting and supervised by mashgichim. Salting for 8 hours in a cold damp climate is a very hard tedious job. A frum person is not cut out for that type of physical labor. No one is using frum individuals to unload the crates of live chickens from the trailer even though there is a concern treifos because of נפולה. When some of the frum salters were approached re: not salting all areas or not salting under the skin areas, etc. the response was אינו נאכל מחמת מלחו & מליחה מצד אחד is good enough, is not acceptable. BTW- Of interest is that some food service restaurants and caterers allow goyim to check eggs for blood spots, even though many eggs in the metro NY area are from Amish and do have males present. It should be done by שומרי שבת.
The salt is in perforated tables. There are 2 salters per table, all being observed by the mashgichim and plant inspectors. When the salt gets moist or dirty, fresh salt is put. Gizzards and other parts are salted separately and the Mashgiach puts a label for the time when the salting is finished. Then they are washed 3 times in different bins of water.
Some places use a machine to salt the chickens. After the chickens are salted by hand on all sides and inside, they are put on an angled sloped conveyor that takes about an hour and twenty minutes till it reaches the top and goes into the finals 3 rinses הדחה אחרונה. There is no way of any worker to increase the speed of the conveyor. The workers are watched not to throw any chickens higher up on the conveyor, which would obviously be a problem of not being salted the full time required. We did observe in other plants that there were issues with the salting conveyor, etc.
Fresh livers are packaged in a perforated container so there is no issue of כבוש. The Thursday livers are usually broiled at the plant because of the 3 days issue.
All the box weights are tared prior to icing (you don't pay for the box or the ice).
We realized why those that are makpid on the process to be “Li’Mehadrin” prefer the Birdsboro Li’Mehadrin poultry.
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