A pork plant is a facility where pigs are slaughtered, cleaned, processed and prepared for sale. A pork plant may also be used to process meats from other animals such as cattle, lamb and bison, in addition to pigs. Generally speaking, a meat plant will process one type of animal on one day and then prepare the facility to process another type of animal on a different day.
Pigs are processed in a pork plant generally when they are between four to seven months of age. In many facilities, the animals are led into the slaughterhouse through a winding path that is designed to reduce the level of stress on the animals by limiting its visibility to only the animal in front of it. Reducing the stress level of the animals helps to make the slaughtering process easier to accomplish, is considered more humane, and also improves the taste and texture of the meat.
The next stage in a pork plant involves the stunning of the pig, which renders the animal unconscious and unable to feel pain. Different meat plants use different stunning methods with a few of the most common methods of stunning including using carbon dioxide or electrical-based tools to render an animal unconscious. Once unconscious, the pig is hoisted up by its hind legs to enable the cutting of an artery in the neck. The blood in the animal is then allowed to drain out of the carcass, in a process that commonly takes about five minutes. Meat plants that process animals based on Jewish kosher or Muslim halal guidelines do not allow the stunning of the animal prior to slaughter.
The next few phases of the process in a pork plant involve the cleaning, cutting, preparing and storing of the carcasses for eventual sale. In many plants, the first step is the removal of any hair on the carcass. Once this is completed the pigs are eviscerated, which means that the internal organs — such as hearts, lungs, and intestines — along with the head are removed and the carcass is split in half. The organs that are considered edible, often referred to as offal, are separated from organs that are not edible.
The carcasses are then often cut into separate sections. Pork sides and bellies are often used to make bacon or ribs, the shank or rump of the pig is used to make ham, the loin is used for varying cuts of pork, while the shoulder is often used for roasts. The meat may then be stored in refrigerated units in the pork plant until they are distributed for sale or for further processing.