How meat gets made

How meat gets made

Mar 7
Sara Tondini, Animal Sciences graduate student

I have shared my adventures at the Meat Science Lab on campus before. The joy of making bacon and the smiling faces I see buying ribeyes and pork chops. Today I’m going to take you on another meat science adventure. The dirty work that has to be done to get to this wonderful meat euphoria.

It sounds way worse than it actually is. No one is swinging swords around at livestock. Slaughter just means the killing of animals for food, and it is done in a humane manner. Before I had taken part in this process, I was not sure what to expect, and I feel like most people feel the same way. So I'm going to go step-by-step through this process, so it doesn't seem as scary, and because if you eat meat, it's a good idea to know how it got to your table.

1) Immobilization - For pork, this is done with an electrical current, and for beef and lamb this is done via captive bolt. These methods render the animal unconscious and unable to feel before any cuts are made. Immobilization allows the entire process to comply with humane regulations. Immobilization instantly renders the animal insensible and no longer able to feel pain.

2) Suspension - Animals are suspended on an overhead rail by the hind legs.

3) Exsanguination - Big fancy word for "draining all the blood." The carotid artery and jugular vein are cut allowing the blood to drain out.

4) Hide removal or de-hairing- Cows are skinned, and pigs are de-haired. The skinning process is straightforward. They're skinned from the belly out, and the hide comes off all together. Pigs are drenched in hot water which helps with the removal of the hair, and then they are singed with a gas flame. This gas flame will burn human thumbs if they don't move their hand out of the way fast enough. I learned this the hard way ... :)

*I don’t know if this one deserves its own bullet point, but this is where we decapitate pigs. It is a lot harder than it seems. My family doesn’t believe that I cut the heads off of pigs on Tuesday mornings, but I do. It happens. (Beef cattle are decapitated after exsanguination and before hide removal).

5) Evisceration - Big fancy word for "removing the organs."

6) Chilling - The carcass is split in half and sent to cool in the refrigerator

Then these carcasses are cut into retail cuts or made into other edible meat products like sausage and the always loveable, bacon. See, it’s not so bad.