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West Liberty Foods Meat Processing Facility, Mount Pleasant, Iowa, United States of America




Key Data


West Liberty Foods opened a new meat processing and slicing facility in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, US, in 2003. The company is owned and operated by a cooperative of turkey growers in Iowa called the Iowa Turkey Growers Cooperative (ITGC).

The ITGC represents the interests of 47 Iowa turkey growers who originally invested in the company in 1996. The Iowa Turkey Growers Cooperative now owns four processing plants at West Liberty, Sigourney, Mount Pleasant and Tremonton. The plant is housed in a 50,000ft² building in the 60-acre Crossroad Industrial Park. The building was purchased from the Mount Pleasant Area Development Corp. and the new plant was set up with a $7m investment from ITGC.

THE ITGC FACILITY BUILDING

The Mount Pleasant Area Development Corporation, owners of the Crossroad Industrial Park, was set up by Mount Pleasant Area Chamber of Commerce, the city of Mount Pleasant and Henry County. From its beginning, the commission received both financial and in-kind support from Access Energy Cooperative and Mount Pleasant Utilities. The Mount Pleasant Area Development Corporation set out to construct a shell building to be occupied by a medium-to-large company.

Access Energy secured a rural development grant as well as providing local match funding for the grant, enabling the development corporation to construct the 50,000ft² shell building that West Liberty Foods (ITGC) has occupied. The Iowa Area Development group, and former development commission executive vice president Greg Spenner, provided much of the technical expertise in writing the grant.

Northeast Missouri Power Cooperative, a group of local supporters and Access Energy all came together to guarantee the loan for the grant. Wiley and Sons and Ceco Building Systems, both of Mount Pleasant, also helped a great deal by constructing the building at cost price. The building was extended by some 15,000ft² before ITGC took possession. The facility currently (January 2008) has a floor space of 85,000ft² with 20 slicing rooms to slice processed turkey, chicken, beef and pork. Some of these are also capable of handling cheese.

TECHNOLOGY

The new ITGC facility in Mount Pleasant has a highly automated material (meat) handling system to minimise any possible contamination of products. The plant processes by slicing 20 million pounds of meat per year and initially employed 108 people. As of 2008 the facility has 500 employees working across three shifts.

Employees are expected to wear a sealed clean room suit before entering any of the slicing cells. The suits are cleaned/sanitised and sealed in a clean room laundry facility at the plant by the contracted uniform company Cintas. Employees must replace the suit each time they leave the cell, giving an average of five suit changes per day.

There were initially 12 production lines, but during 2004 there was an expansion of 20,000ft² to accommodate eight new production lines. A new cold storage facility was also added. The meat processed in Mount Pleasant is produced (cooked) at either of the two other Iowa plants (West Liberty and Sigourney). No raw meat ever enters the facility at Mount Pleasant.

Bulk product logs of meat and cheese are received, washed and sanitised (outer casings are removed) and the uncovered 'logs' treated with infrared before being moved by conveyer into one of the slicing rooms. The products are then cooled in a -40°C blast freezer and sliced cold. Slicing is more efficient at these temperatures and blades do not get blocked with debris, meaning less maintenance. Some processed meats prior to slicing are further processed by tumbling with flavours and coatings and are then chilled and sliced to produce custom sliced meat products.

Adjacent to the meat slicing facility is the 68,000ft² Millard cold storage facility, operated by Millard Refrigeration, a long-term partner of West Liberty Foods. These two facilities are connected by a conveyor and packed sliced meat and cheese products are transferred from the plant to cold storage, ready for shipping.

ITGC HYGIENE CONTROL

The new ITGC facility is carefully regulated for hygiene standards. The system they have in place was developed by Air Control Fabrications. The plant is highly automated and there is no human contact with products pre- or post-slicing. All employees in high-risk areas are required to proceed through a boot washer. There is only one slice line per room and the products produced in each are carefully regulated.

"Over 90% of the products from the plant are co-manufactured for nationally branded manufacturers."

Product changeovers require a standard shutdown, maintenance and hygiene procedure. There are Clean-in-Place (CIP) systems in operation throughout the production process. These make use of a state-of-the-art ozone sanitisation system, where ozonated water is used to clean the blades and machinery during process cleaning; its advantage is that it leaves no residues or chemicals that could taint the food, since ozone reverts to oxygen. Ozone is very effective in eradicating E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella, Giardia and Cryptosporidium.

Each meat slicing room has its own drain system, air make-up system, water make-up system and positive air pressure. These systems attempt to eliminate contamination by microorganisms via the air. The packaging rooms are carefully controlled. All packaging supplies are kept away from the packaging room except for packaging film. Packaging has to undergo rigorous quality assurance and sterilisation before use. Infrared heat treatment is used for packaging sterilisation.

DISTRIBUTION EXPANSION

West Liberty Foods (ITGC) leased ten new refrigerated trailers in order to meet its expansion plans to increase the volume of processed meat. The ten new trailers were used within the state of Iowa to transport products between the three processing facilities and national clients. In addition, the trailers were used as an advertising vehicle for the new corporate logo, ITGC.

ITGC supplies some of the major foodservice retail and national branded companies throughout the US. The company supplies the sandwich outlet, Subway, with processed sliced meats such as bologna and liver sausage and sliced meats such as turkey, chicken, ham and beef; the company won Subway supplier of the year award in 2001. The national brands supplied include Oscar Meyer, Louis Rich and Hormel. Over 90% of the products from the plant are co-manufactured for nationally branded manufacturers and only 10% are packaged under the West Liberty Foods brand.

Drag style poultry chiller - graphical representation.