I have been getting a lot of requests lately to explain the difference between water and air chill as it relates to chicken processing.
Water chill when I first started back in the ‘60’s was a stainless tank filled with ice and spring water. That tank may have held 50 chickens. The bird temperature going into the tank was in the 90 degrees Fahrenheit range.
The birds chilled for hours before we pulled them out to cut and pack. We never used chlorine and I am not sure we knew what chlorine was back in those days.
Today the industry standard is still water chill but with a least cost high volume and high yield twist to it.
The procedure is a long refrigerated u shaped tube which could be over 100 feet long, and hold 30,000 to 50,000 gallons of heavily chlorinated water. The chickens are mechanically forced through the length of the chiller, absorbing lots of dirty chlorinated water. The force of moving the chickens inside the chiller is very damaging- breaking bones and tearing skin. At the end of the chiller, the chickens are elevated out of the tank and hand hung on the processing line. Many years ago we operated such a water chiller, so I know what I am talking about and I was happy to see it go.
The Bell & Evans Air Chill story probably started over 20 years ago while visiting a small plant in Germany. The owner of that plant engineered that system for all the right reasons and not just marketing hype.
Over the years I have visited poultry plants all over the world, many that converted from chlorinated water chill to air chill. Many installed cheap, poorly designed, and inefficient systems but were able to get marketing hype labeling the chicken as being air chilled.
By the time we could afford to build a first class Air Chill system, we knew what we wanted to achieve and what we didn’t want.
Below is an excerpt from our website explaining how we air chill our birds.
Our system consists of three different cooling chambers; each is closely monitored to maintain a specific temperature and humidity during the process. To assure proper chilling, the birds traverse almost two miles of track, taking them 2 hours and 45 minutes to move through the system. Unlike other Air Chill chambers, ours has a unique, single level chilling line that prevents cross contamination from birds on higher tracks dripping onto those underneath.
This slow chill process is also more effective in tenderizing the meat. Since our chickens do not depend on ice water for chilling, the chicken’s natural juices are not diluted in, or replaced by the water in a conventional water chiller. While in these conventional chillers, chickens may absorb 7 to 8% of their body weight in added water – and that water may contain chlorine. (Chlorine is added to conventional chillers to inhibit bacterial growth.) This water “weeps” out of the meat and is trapped in the “diaper” you find in fresh chicken packaging .
Since our Air Chill System uses cold air not water to chill our chickens, we are able to save tens of thousands of gallons of water each day. And since water is not weeping from the chicken, we will now be able to use recyclable and reusable shipping containers.
Benefits of the Bell & Evans Air Chill System
- Bell & Evans Air Chilled Chickens retain their own natural juices.
Each bite is incredibly more tender and full of flavor.
- Bell & Evans Air Chilled Chickens are individually slow chilled.
No water or chlorine permeates the meat or dilutes the flavor.
- Bell & Evans Air Chill System is environmentally friendly.
- Lower water usage, tens of thousands of gallons saved each day.
- Longer shelf life.
- Reduced human handling.
- Cleaner, better appearance.
- Closely monitored temperature controlled environment.
Below are two pictures, the first showing the effects of water chill and the second is of our air chill system. You decide which chicken you would rather eat:
Or Air Chilled?