Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 6, Issue 1 - May, 2013


Food Safety Issues Result in Changes for Junior Turkey Show and Sale

Sulser, A., Extension Assistant Professor/Ag 4-H, Utah State University
Haws. S., Extension Assistant Professor/FCS 4-H, Utah State University
Holmgren. L. N., Extension Professor/ Ag 4-H, Utah State University
Proctor. D., Extension Associate Professor/FCS 4-H, Utah State University


The accepted practice of processing turkeys has changed because of data collected from 2009 to 2012. Procedures during the processing, storage, and auction of turkeys were altered to adhere to USDA standards of safety for processed poultry. Chilling time in ice and water vats was reduced significantly, judging processes were altered and shortened; turkeys were placed into refrigeration sooner, and were held overnight before transportation. Birds are stored at 26°F until after the sale where they are picked up by buyers directly from storage facilities. Youth participants were educated on important food safety practices. These changes have resulted in assuring a fresh and wholesome product for consumers.


The Wasatch County Junior Turkey Show and Sale has provided 4-H and FFA members an alternative to traditional livestock shows and sales for eighteen years. It provides them with an opportunity to gain hands-on experiences that enable them to relate what they have learned to real life situations. They begin the process by ordering poults in May through their 4-H or FFA advisors. They then receive the birds in late July, all coming from the same hatchery and all being the same breed or strain. The participants then provide care and management for the next 18 to 20 weeks when turkeys are mature and ready to be harvested. The birds are then processed at a facility owned by Utah 4-H and FFA members, and inspected by the state; this is all done in accordance to Utah law, allowing sell to the general public. What makes the Wasatch County Junior Turkey Show and Sale unique is that it provides a fresh processed turkey, one that has never been below 26°F, for the consumer (USDA 2010). Most turkey shows sell live turkeys. The North Carolina state fair in North Carolina (2011), the Eastern Sierra Tri-County Fair in Bishop, California (2011),  and the Fort Bend County Fair in Fort Bend, Texas (2011) are a few of the examples where this is the case. In the Wasatch show, the turkeys are processed a week before Thanksgiving and sold the following Tuesday, after holding for five days. In situations like this, food safety is an important issue because of the potential for risk (Angell, 2008). Although processing methods were used in accordance to state law, it was felt that food safety should be held to the highest standard to ensure a fresh wholesome bird for the consumers. In 2009, a series of research projects were started to see that the consumers were truly getting the most wholesome fresh bird possible. We also included 4-H and FFA participants in the research process to expand their hands-on learning to incorporate important food safety knowledge.

Methods and Results

The research covers temperature variations of mature turkeys from processing until the final sale through the Wasatch County Junior Turkey Sale. Processing officially begins with tagging of the birds, usually done before loading and trucking. These tags provide identification for each bird during processing and sale. Three enclosed livestock trailers are used to haul the birds to the 4-H state inspected plant. The loading and hauling is carried out by volunteers and the participating youth. Upon arrival at the processing facility, birds are unloaded, eviscerated, and given a hot carcass weight. The hot weight is used for the sale. Birds are then placed immediately into 50/50 water and ice vats to begin the chilling process (Photos 1, 1a). Most carcasses will exceed 100°F at this point. The goal, as set out by the USDA standards, is to bring an 8 pound or larger turkey carcass temperature down to 40°F within eight hours (USDA 2010).


Photos 1 and 1a. Turkey Carcasses in Chilling Vats Layered in Ice.


The accepted practice, before 2009, was to place the carcasses in the chilling vats with ice and water and held overnight in accordance with Utah poultry processing guidelines. The following morning the carcasses were taken out of the vats, judged all together, further processed, bagged, and placed in the refrigerator for further cooling. Our research, which began in 2009 and continued through 2012 (Figure 1), shows that the temperature of the birds dropped an average of 52°F after two hours in the chilling vats with the water and ice. Birds dropped an additional 6°F average during the next two hours. Through the research, it was found that the faster the birds were removed from the chilling vats, judged, bagged, and put in the refrigerator the faster the cooling rate occurred (Figure 2). Speeding up the process allowed the turkeys to securely meet the USDA’s food safety standards.

Figure 1. Cooling rate of Turkey Carcasses in first 4 Hours in Chilling Vats.

Figure 2. Cooling rate of Turkey Carcasses in first eight hours with birds taken from chilling vats after 4 hours, except for 2009 where carcasses were held overnight.


HI Temp 140 Autoclave Temperature Data Loggers were inserted into the deep muscle area of the breast inside the body cavity near the thigh (Photo 2). This provided us with accurate temperature readings every half hour from the time of evisceration till the time of sale. Several things were done differently in the years 2010-2012 that resulted in improved chilling time. Rather than being held in vats overnight, as they were in 2009, the birds remained for just two to three hours. The judging process also changed during the course of the research. Rather than laying the birds on tables to be judged altogether (an unnecessarily long process), the birds are now pre-judged and placed in assigned vats accordingly. The top twenty to twenty five birds are removed from the chilling vats and placed on the tables to be judged for quality and uniformity.

Photo 2. Hl Temp 140 Autoclave Temperature Data Logger used in collecting data and recorded every half hour.


The research has shown that very little temperature gain occurs during this stage; carcasses were shown to gain 1.5°F to 2.5°F during this time frame. After the final judging, birds are then quickly processed further by pulling pin feathers not previously removed, bagged into specialized 4-H and FFA bags (Photo 3), and placed in the refrigeration unit to continue chilling. The birds are left overnight during which they reach a temperature of 30°F to 34°F. They are then trucked back to Wasatch County (approximately 200 miles) for refrigerated storage at 26°F for the next four days till the sale. A temperature gain of only 3°F to 4°F was found during this final transport.

Photo 3. Special bag for 4-H and FFA raised Turkey.


Poultry has the strongest link to food borne illnesses because bacteria multiply quickly at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F (USDA 2010). Food safety and handling practices must be followed to prevent risk of illness associated with poultry. Although the original process and facility passed state inspection and law, risks were still present when the birds did not reach the required 40°F within eight hours. The change in procedures has allowed the product to securely meet USDA standards.

In a recent study it was determined that youth has less than optimal understanding of food safety and food handling practices (Bryd, Bredbenner et al. 2007, p. 1923). To aid in the ultimate goal of educating youth through hands-on and real life experiences, participants were included in the research and procedural changes. Youth were involved in the processing by loading and unloading turkeys from the trailers, recording the hot weight, placing birds in the ice vats, picking pin feathers, vacuum bagging, and sorting birds in the refrigerated cooler. (Photo 4) The youth were taught the USDA standards, how the process allowed those standards to be met, and the importance of safe food handling.


This research was started when the question of food safety was brought to our attention by a food safety and handling specialist who was assisting in the processing facility one year. As stated in the introduction, food safety practices are of the upmost importance to 4-H Extension programs both to ensure a wholesome product for the consumer, and also to teach the importance of safe practices to the youth participants. This is one of the few fresh junior poultry sales in the West (Pace, Holmgren, 2011). Because of this, it is felt essential to maintain the highest standards for the sake of both the program as well as participants and consumers. The research conducted since 2009 has spurred several changes in the Wasatch Junior Turkey Show and Sale. The biggest of these changes was in the processing procedures outlined in Methods and Results. Another change was during the sale of the birds. Rather than each member holding their processed bird on stage, a picture of them and their live bird are projected on a screen. This has aided the sale in keeping the poultry in the storage facility, facilitating both ease in distribution and producing a fresh and wholesome product for the consumers.

Photo 4. Processing turkeys from chain to chilling vats, after hot weight.

The changes made in the Wasatch Junior Turkey Show and Sale, to go above and beyond the long-accepted practice, has allowed it to meet USDA standards and ensure the best product possible. The process of research also aided in 4-H and FFA’s primary goal, to educate its young members, in this case, of food safety practices that effect them and consumers.


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