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12/07/2009 – Consumer Reports (January 2010) reports on bacteria found in broiler chicken.

In the January, 2010 issue of Consumer Reports, Bell & Evans is highlighted as one of the cleanest producers of broiler chickens, with all eight chickens tested being free from both salmonella and campylobacter. A pioneer in the world of natural foods, Bell & Evans is a leading producer of chicken raised without antibiotics. We have identified the government’s critical control points for preventing contamination, states Scott Sechler, owner of Bell & Evans, and created the safest possible environment in which to raise and process our birds. Our in-house microbiological laboratory guarantees we exceed the USDA’s safe handling and sanitation guidelines at our hatcheries, our feed mills and USDA-inspected processing facility.

At the mill.
Our specially formulated, all-vegetable pelletized feed consists of corn, extruded and expeller pressed soybeans, vitamins and minerals. That’s it! We use no by-products, animal or otherwise. Our competitors say they do not use animal by-products, but what about the other industry by-products such as oils and grease, out-of-date bakery products and brewery grains, to name a few?

On the farm.
We enforce stringent bio-security practices on every farm. Our competitors say they have an all in- all out production model. That’s nice, but when we say all in – all out we mean it. Between flocks, all chickens, all manure, all used litter in each chicken house is removed and the house is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. The house remains empty for approximately two weeks to ensure any virus cycle is broken. Prior to the new chicks arrival, we lay down a bed of new shavings. In Scott’s blog from April 24, 2009, he states, We start the heat in the house a day or two before the flock arrives to bring up the floor temperature and provide a comfort zone of about 90-92 degrees. Most of our competitors compost the used litter in their houses, redressing with a top layer of fresh litter. This process makes it difficult, if not impossible, to control salmonella and campylobacter.

All of our houses have concrete floors, making them easier to clean-up and to remove all manure and insects that carry salmonella and campylobacter, than dirt-floor houses. Also these concrete floors keep rodents from burrowing under the floor and coming up in the house. Our pristine houses provide a safe environment in which to raise our chicks. To assure nothing is brought in from the outside, any visitor entering the house must wear disposable, protective clothing and booties.

At the plant.
Named 2005 Plant of the Year by Food Engineering Magazine, our modern facility is a solidly-engineered structure, with tile walls and brick floors. It raises the bar for efficiency and cleanliness as well as employee safety and comfort. During evisceration, all birds are examined and washed inside and out, several times before ever entering our air chill system. Unlike other air-chill facilities where the chickens are moved on multi-level tracks, one above the other, Bell & Evans has a unique, single-level chilling line that prevents cross contamination from birds on higher racks dripping onto those underneath.

Since we do not depend on ice water baths for chilling, (see Scott’s blog from August 6, 2009 for more information on water chilling) our chicken’s natural juices are not diluted or replaced by chlorinated water as in a conventional water chiller. In the traditional large-vat water bath chilling method, whole chickens may absorb as much as 8% of their body weight in added chlorinated water and cut-up parts up to 12%. This water weeps out of the meat and is trapped in the diaper in fresh chicken packaging… water that may be swimming with harmful bacteria from other contaminated birds.

In our packaging.
The first of its kind in the United States, and possibly the world, our streamline packaging dramatically increases the shelf life of our products and reduces the impact on the environment. Instead of using the same packaging equipment found in most poultry plants in the USA, Scott Sechler searched the world for the best packaging and ultimately found it in Europe. What makes our packaging different? No person and no air touches the chicken after packaging until the customer opens it in their home.

Our whole birds are packaged on a machine that thermoforms the film, seals the edges and then shrinks the material around the bird. We give the consumer the freshest chicken available, with a shelf life of 18 days from the date of packaging. There is no metal clip commonly found in the retail case, no diaper and no retained water. This freezer-safe packaging can go straight to the freezer for up to 12 months. Since the consumer does not need to re-package the chicken, it eliminates one more opportunity for contamination.

When it came to packaging our cut-up poultry, Scott didn’t want to be a me too company. He wanted packaging that made sense for production and the consumer. He chose vacuum-sealed trays. New in 2009 and being rolled-out in 2010, our fresh chicken parts are placed in a pre-formed rigid tray. A vacuum seal film is placed on top of the chicken and it’s sent into a vacuum chamber, shrinks around the product and is sealed all around. Once again this process gives the chicken an18-day shelf life from date of packaging and consumers can freeze the product in the tray they purchased at retail, without having to re-package.

In the home.
We can take all the appropriate steps to control the spread of bacteria, but consumer education is still an issue. We have developed packaging that reduces the amount of contact a consumer has with raw chicken and, of course, include safe handling instructions on all packaging, Click here to learn more about Safe Product Handling.