How Chicken Little Becomes a McNugget

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Where do I start when writing this post? Unlike our previous McDonald’s All-Access Moms tour to the Cargill Beef Facility in Spruce Grove, Alberta, this time we were visiting the Cargill Chicken Facility in London. Here, we were going to see the entire chicken to McNugget process, beginning (which is the end for the chicken) to end (McNugget).

None of us were looking forward to the tour, though we were all curious about the mighty McNugget. We knew that to get the answers our readers want, this was the way to do it. This tour in particular was a bit more “all-access” than I’d like, but at the end of the day, it was an important part of this journey.

After we met with Cargill representatives (a couple of whom we had previously met in Spruce Grove) we listened to a presentation about the Cargill London Facility, about Cargill as a company, as well as the pride of the employees who work there. We were also told ahead of time what we were going to see throughout the entire process so that we would be prepared.

Upon entering the receiving area where production begins and the chickens are taken through the slaughter process, we were all a bit uneasy.

Me, I outright gagged.

Twice.

Loudly.

I was mortified but continued on (with a face mask to handle the smell) because I felt that it was something I had to see in order to give a full report back to my readers. Now the ironic thing here is that my reaction was not from what I was seeing. The smell of wet chicken feathers is something my mom has professed for years to be one of the worst smells ever. It was raining in London that day. She was right.

The chicken-slaughter itself was actually very quick. To put it in simple terms – the live chicken is brought in to the receiving area and hung on the production line by the ankles which keep the chickens calm (as much as one can be calm in that situation). The lights are kept low and the chicken’s front rubs against a breast plate which also has a calming effect. Next, the chicken receives an electrical stun to render the chicken insensible, which means the chicken is still alive but unconscious and insensible to any pain. An incision is then made in the side of the neck, the chicken bleeds out and then dies before it regains consciousness. The feathers, head and feet are removed next (a hot water tank is used to remove the feathers). The process wasn’t pretty, to say the least, but growing up on the prairies, I understand this is all part of the food chain. Temple Grandin, a leading animal welfare expert, has even approved the process herself, which speaks volumes.

 

mcdonald's all access moms chicken tourOnce the head, feet and feathers are removed the chicken moves on to the next stage of the primary processing, where the chicken, including internal organs, are inspected to make sure the chicken is wholesome and ready for processing into food. The chicken is then cooled in a chiller and it is after this point that the chicken is in the same state as you would buy them in the grocery store. Full disclosure here, I won’t buy/cook a whole chicken because of the way it looks – bones, wings…yup, wasn’t this tour just perfect for me??

cargill chicken londonAfter this point, the chickens are deboned and the drums, wings, thigh meat and breast meat are removed. The meat is passed through 2 x-ray machines up to 3 times to ensure there are no bones left in the product.

The white chicken breast meat is what’s used in the Chicken McNuggets, so after the deboning and removing the sections of meat from the chicken, the breast meat used to make Chicken McNuggets is put into a mixer (even though the term “blender” is used by documentary writers and chefs on TV, there are no blades to chop/blend the meat so it’s essentially mixed, not blended). The mixer also contains a marinade and a proportional amount of the skin from the breast meat, which we learned is a great binder to help the meat form (who knew?).

cargill chicken plant londonOnce mixed, the meat goes through the production line and is formed by a machine into the 4 distinct shapes of Chicken McNuggets – the boot, the bell, the ball and the bow tie. Bet you didn’t know there were actual names for each of the shapes? I didn’t either.

Once formed, the McNuggets are first battered with flour and then covered with a Tempura batter before going into a fryer to make the coating crisp. The McNuggets are par-fried at this point but not fully cooked until they have been cooked at the restaurant. Once the frying is complete, the Nuggets are immediately frozen, inspected once more, and then placed 27 to a bag and then boxed 28 bags to a box.

Similar to the beef-to-patty process at Cargill Meats in Alberta when we saw Quarter Pounder patties being made, the process to make a Chicken McNugget is quite simple. There were no back rooms where mysterious ingredients are added and all our questions were answered when we needed clarification on something.

Thanks to my readers for the questions they provided – I got answers!

McDonald’s Q&A

Q. Tammy R: “Why did they get rid of the chicken strips?”

A. The chicken strips are still available in the Snack Wraps, but the consensus among those I asked was that customers felt that the price point for the chicken strips as a single item (3-6 strips for example) was too high and instead, people ordered the McNuggets. So, McDonald’s decided to take that option off the menu.

Q. Ann Lyte-Maille: “Do they plan on bringing back the yogurt and mini fries that we had in SK a while back?”

A. McDonald’s regularly has test-markets where they bring in a new product to a certain area to test among consumers and see how well it does on the menu and how popular it is. Do people order it? What is their opinion once they’ve tried it? Once they receive the feedback they then evaluate if the item will make it on the menu permanently.

Q. Ira: “What is the role of dimethylpolysiloxane”

A. Dimethylpolysiloxane, like all ingredients used in McDonald’s food, is food-safe and has been approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). It is used as an anti-foaming agent to keep the oil in the deep fryer from foaming over, which otherwise would of course pose a hazard to employees.

Q. Debbie W.: “Would they consider a real chicken breast cooked?”

A. McDonald’s has a grilled chicken item on the menu. I actually saw this process too and it was pretty basic: chicken + marinade + freeze + package.

Q. Stefanie McMullen: “I wonder if they will ever consider lowering the amount of sodium in items put in Happy Meals?”

A. Good news Stefanie! Look for more sodium-reduced items on the McDonald’s menu in 2012!

Comments

  1. Could you tell us a bit more about the condition of the foul before they got axed? Did they appear clean and healthy? Do you know anything about what they are fed or any hormones used?

    I’d be also happy to see sodium levels come down :)

    • Tenille ~ Feisty Frugal & Fabulous says:

      Hi Heather! My post isn’t as detailed as some of the other mom’s, so check them all out on the All-Access Moms site. Jill really detailed it well: http://allaccessmoms.cityline.ca/all-access-moms-blog/

      As for my own personal thoughts on the chickens, they were really calm. The area where “it all happens” is quite dark – Temple Grandin helped in establishing these procedures to make it as calming as possible for the chickens. It’s a dark area, with some blue lighting here and there. The breast plates calm them. Yes, I saw their wings flap once or twice when they are lifted from the crate and hung (upside down) on the conveyor system but then they stopped (maybe the flapping was more of a startle being lifted out of the crate?) If there was mass chaos and lots of clucking and wings flapping it would have been more traumatic for ME too!

  2. You’re so awesome for putting yourself out there, retching and all!! And how great it is to get answers to questions, I’ve been following the whole time just not commenting. I love that you get a chance to ask these questions and I get to learn more about McD’s at the same time.

  3. Fascinating! Thanks for demystifying the process for us. Most McNugget stories I have to run through Snopes and find they aren’t true.

  4. Good to know. Thanks for the post!

  5. Thank you for passing this along! It sure eases my mind a ton!

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