‘I Work at a Chicken Processing Plant and I Know Where Your Food Comes From’

Following in the footsteps of President Obama and Louis C.K., a college student who works for Perdue does an AMA on Reddit.

Just how, exactly, do we get from feather-y bird to here? (Photo: Riccardo Sala/Getty Images)

Mar 5, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

It smells like a public pool. People lose fingers and hands “quite a bit.” A supervisor will spend 15 minutes making a cart full of chicken carcasses “look like they were trying to be sexy.” Oh, and it won’t turn you off from eating chicken—well, except for nuggets.

This is the on-the-line view of life working in a chicken processing plant according to a 20-something college student who debones the front halves of birds for the poultry giant Perdue. Earlier today, the employee, who goes by the username “soursteel,” opened up an Ask Me Anything thread on Reddit, writing, “I realize people are going to look at this and think “wow...that doesn’t look interesting at all.” I assure you, it will be! I know all the ins and outs of where your chicken products come from and I can tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly!”

This kind of unbiased, unvarnished view inside a meat processing facility is an increasingly rare thing. Ag-gag laws have hampered activist-led efforts to show the inner workings of the secretive industry to the greater public, and the societal disregard for people who work in meat processing makes the stories of their daily labor less accessible to the general public than most jobs.

So even if talk of employee trysts derails the conversation, there’s useful information to be found here too. For example, soursteel walks Redditors straight through the killing, butchering and packaging process:

“They are taken to live hang where they get electroshock "therapy" more or less. They go through multiple process to kill bacteria, defeather, pull out the gizzards. They then go through the chillers, which kill even more bacteria and bring their temperature way down. They are then rehung and go through a long line that cuts off the legs, thighs, wings. From there, there are different sections that do their part to trim fat, remove any extra bones, etc etc. They then get packaged (tray form or individual vacuum sealed wrappers) and go to shipping.”

He calls the killing mechanism, an electrical pulse “that basically shuts down their hearts without them feeling a thing,” both “awesome” and “one of the more humane ways I have seen.”

“What if I told you I loved killing chickens?” He joked after being asked if “awesome” was an appropriate way to describe shocking birds to death. “I just think it’s a neat and clean way to go about things and it was very interesting getting to know the process.”

Topics range from sanitation issues and queries about mutant birds to questions about chemicals used in the plant and the definition of “mechanically separated chicken.” And ultimately, people want to know if they should or shouldn’t eat the final product.

Our Redditor avoids nuggets because, according to him, they’re made from “skin, few bones, fat, whatever meat is attached to the skin.” But other poultry products get the upvoted seal of approval from this Perdue employee: “Basically anything you buy in stores such as breasts, tenders, whole birds=100% chicken. So no worries there.”