I just got back from west Texas where I toured a big industrial beef processing plant and I am still in shock by what I witnessed there. But I am not shocked in the way you might expect based on the negative portrayals of the beef industry that seem so rampant in the media. Rather, I am stunned by how humanly the animals were treated and by the detailed attention given to food safety at every stage of the process.
This wasn't some boutique, alternative meat processing center either, it was a facility of Cargill, one of the largest beef producers in the world. I spent more than 6 hours there and witnessed every aspect of the system from slaughter to the storage of meat. I walked though the center of it all with my eyes wide open. This was no staged tour. If you could stage this, Broadway's top producer Julie Tamour, may as well just step aside.
My tour proceeded backwards in order starting where the meat is cut into steaks and roasts and ending at the "dirtier" processing areas in order to prevent tracking any bacteria into sanitary zones. The meat cutting area was mesmerizing with more than 450 expert butchers carving out tenderloins and briskets with awe-inspiring speed and accuracy. There is a precise tracking system so that every piece of meat can be traced back to a specific animal.
Next, continuing to walk backwards through the process, I saw how the halved carcasses that went through the line, were marked for safety and quality by USDA inspectors and were tracked to go to a specific retailer. In fact, there are 5 separate USDA inspection points throughout the process. Everything in this area was orderly, sparkling clean and refrigerator cold.
The next area was shokingly stinky, but my interest and fascination overruled my nose. It was the organ removal area where the innards are inspected and fabricated into offal -- tripe, sweetbreads, liver, intestines and so on. Even with this inherently messy task (Mike Rowe -- you have to cover that on Dirtiest Jobs!) the waste management and cleanliness or the area was something to behold.