TUCKER, GA. — During late May, poultry industry professionals met for USPOULTRY’s 2024 Poultry Processor Workshop in Nashville, Tenn., where attendees went over every aspect of plant operations.

Some topics included effective leadership, meeting customer and regulatory requirements, incorporating new technology and collaborating between departments.

At the beginning of the workshop, Clint Rivers, president and chief executive officer of Wayne-Sanderson Farms and chairman of the board, led a discussion on leadership. 

Rivers, an enthusiast of Dr. W. Edwards Deming, talked about the importance of empowering people through leadership and focusing on the underlying processes rather than the end result. Later, he laid out the “Three Cs” of leadership — credibility, competency and caring — which were identified as a starting point for leadership.

Rivers also mentioned coaching for the growth and development of others as a key leadership strategy to identify in people. He cited the effectiveness of the Wayne-Sanderson Farms’ Process Focus initiative along with its emphasis on continuous improvement.

During a separate session, Emilio Esteban, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) under secretary, gave attendees regulatory updates on several different agency initiatives and priorities. Esteban explained the reduction of poultry-related Salmonella illnesses, including the recent Not-Ready-To-Eat (NRTE) Breaded Stuffed Chicken Final Rule.

Emerging techniques such as genomics, vaccination and enumeration were also explored in the context of Salmonella illness reduction.

Later on, another food safety discussion was led by Kevin Atkins, vice president of food safety and regulatory affairs at Perdue Farms, who looked at Salmonella process control throughout the bird’s life and the processing plant. 

In the session, a proposed sampling program was shared, including location and frequency to assess the effectiveness of Salmonella reduction throughout the facility. Attendees also looked at the modeling of intervention effectiveness throughout the process with commentary on particular processing stages and their contribution to reducing microbial loads. 

Another topic brought up during the workshop was a customer’s view of animal welfare. Lynda Loudermilk, senior scientist at KFC/Yum! Brands, walked attendees through supplier expectations, beginning with the five freedoms of animal welfare. She also mentioned the Yum! Sustainable Animal Protein Principles and sustainability metrics along with other supplier expectations.

Loudermilk noted that chicken, due to its sales volume throughout the company, received the greatest emphasis on animal welfare and said that KFC/Yum! is working to “increase transparency, create consistency across brands, improve data collection, and communicate progress and challenges” to stakeholders.

Experience with plant automation was part of an overview with Eddie Fortner, area operations manager for Wayne-Sanderson Farms. Fortner noted that there are several reasons for automation, including volume, quality, safety, profit margins, labor challenges and customer desires. While discussing each motive, he provided a real-life example of related equipment along with its advantages and disadvantages. 

The last discussion came from Brandon Armwood, DVM, director of vet services for Pilgrim’s Pride, who detailed how live production can assist with plant operation challenges. 

Armwood explored six areas where plant operations and live production can work together, including feed withdrawal, Salmonella monitoring and control, paw quality, uniformity, DOAs and condemnations. Following each issue, several suggestions were made that could help improve bird welfare and food safety while maximizing yield.