On the most basic level, processing refers to the conversion of livestock to food. Although poultry were once marketed live for home slaughter and preparation, the modern industry is highly integrated, centralized, and an incredibly efficient converter of live poultry into a diverse array of consumer food products. For example, in a single day, a modern broiler processing plant can slaughter more than 250,000 birds, employ upward of 1500 people, use 2 million gallons of water, and produce over 15 tons of inedible by-products in order to produce almost a million pounds of saleable meat products. In the United States, the average consumer eats approximately 98 pounds of poultry meat (chicken and turkey) a year, compared to 119 pounds of red meat (beef and pork).

Poultry processing, or what is more commonly referred to as primary processing, is the series of steps that commences with the live bird and encompasses slaughter (killing of animals for food), evisceration, chilling, and marketing of whole, ready-to-cook carcasses. Further processing, or secondary processing, often refers to portioning of the carcass into parts and deboned meat through product formulation, further processing, and cooking.

A modern broiler processing plant is highly automated, with constantly evolving mechanization to reduce manual labor. Pronounced differences exist between plants in terms of how specific operations are accomplished. The following description is a composite of a generic plant, with the emphasis on the operations and not on how they are specifically performed.

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