• Tuesday, August 1, 2017

    Veal processing

    To continue my series on the American Milk-fed veal industry, I’m going to write about my experience in the veal processing plants. In this series, I’ve already written an overview of the veal industry and about how the calves are fed and raised.

    On our tour, hosted by the American Veal Association, we were invited to visit two veal processors in the Philadelphia area. We had breakfast with Wayne Marcho, who told us the story of Marcho Farms. He expanded his business from a few veal calves that he had in his boyhood into a company that employs over 200 people and contracts with veal farms in 5 states. He likes to say it’s a 4H project that ‘got out of hand.’

    A photo of Mr. Catelli's father.
    I love the history in the meat business.
    Tony Catelli invited us to an amazing veal dinner that I’m going to talk more about in my last post in the veal series. His dad started the family veal and lamb business over 70 years ago and passed it to his sons in 1981, becoming Catelli Brothers. Now it is the US division of the family owned Fontelli Food Group, the largest producer of veal in North America with plants in New Jersey and Quebec.

    As a meat scientist, I was excited to get to see a new type of processing plant, but what I saw didn’t surprise me in the least. Just like all the meat processing plants I’ve been in, these plants had the highest standards in animal welfare and were immaculately clean and sanitary. They are operated under USDA inspection with their required HACCP plans to ensure that they produce a safe and wholesome product.

    We observed harvest at the Marcho Farms plant, and, as with most large processing facilities in the US, Dr. Temple Grandin helped to design and approved the holding pens and live animal handling equipment. The animals are showered with water when they unload off the truck and rested in pens. They are calmly moved to harvest only by employees specially trained in live animal handling. The animals were stunned to render them unconscious and proceed through the process using humane and sanitary procedures just as is done in meat processing plants of all species.

    I didn’t have any doubt that the harvest process would be clean and humane because I know the meat industry, and I know the people in it are committed to doing the right thing. Now I can say that I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

    A USDA inspection stamp on
    a veal carcass at Marcho Farms
    Although we were not able to see the harvest side of the Catelli Brothers operation, Mr. Catelli shared that their live animal handling areas are monitored by a third-party animal welfare auditing company. They use video to view their entire process 100% of the time they are in operation.

    Marcho Farms uses a lactic acid wash on the carcasses at various stages in the slaughter process to help keep bacteria from attaching to the meat. USDA inspectors observe the live animals and the whole harvest process. They will also look over each carcass and their organs for signs of disease or contamination. The inspector will mark each carcass with an inspection stamp of edible ink.

    The carcasses are washed with 180°F water and individually bagged in plastic to eliminate cross-contamination. After chilling 48 hours in a cooler they are graded and cut up. 
    The calves weigh about 500 pounds and have carcasses that range from 250 to 300 pounds.
    You can see the size of the
    veal carcasses at Marcho Farms.
     This man is about 6-foot tall

    Veal grading

    Just like beef, veal has USDA grades assigned to the carcasses by a USDA grader. Veal carcasses may grade Prime, Choice, Good, Standard, or Utility. Grades are decided based on the conformation of the carcasses (ratio of muscle to bone and fat) and the color of the lean.  The grader evaluates each carcass and designates their grade with a stamp of purple, edible ink.

    Marcho Farms also participates in a USDA Process Verified Program called Butcher’s Block Reserve. It has qualifications for Quality grade in addition to ribeye size and lean color. The USDA grader evaluates each carcass and certifies the ones that meet the specifications for the program. It’s kinda like Certified Angus Beef for veal.

    At Marcho Farms, USDA graders stamp veal carcasses with Quality Grade or Butcher Block Reserve

    stamps based on lean color, ribeye size, and conformation (muscling).


    In the meat business, we use the term ‘fabrication’ to reference the trimming and cutting up of the carcasses, so it’s really the opposite of ‘fabrication’. But, that’s the tradition.

    Employees wear white frock and aprons,
    disposable sleeves and gloves when
    handling and cutting the veal.
    Just like in all meat processing facilities, the plant is washed top to bottom every day, and company employees and USDA check the plant for cleanliness before they get started. Anyone entering the plant is required to wear clean frocks, hairnets, and hard hats. We had to wash our hands every time we entered, even though we weren’t going to touch anything. Employees who work with the meat wear plastic gloves and sleeves that get changed several times each day.

    All of the cutting and packaging rooms are kept at refrigerated temperatures. Several times throughout the process, the veal cuts were sprayed with a blend of lactic and citric acid to control bacterial growth. The veal cuts move through the plant on cleaned, sanitized conveyor belts and in containers we call ‘lugs.’ The veal cuts are packaged ready to set out in the store. Catelli Brothers was the first company to provide case-ready veal and lamb. Once the cuts are packaged and labeled, they are boxed and stored in refrigeration until they are shipped out. Even the shipping dock is temperature controlled and the company places a temperature recorder inside each truck to ensure the meat stays cold.  
    Case-ready veal cuts at Catelli Brothers

    Mr. Catelli said that most of their veal takes less than 7 days from harvest to retail. That includes the carcasses being imported from Canada! Freshness is very important in the veal industry. Both Marcho Farms and Catelli Brothers said that they are able to trace their veal from farm to fork.

    Something I always enjoy hearing about is the plant employees. These two plants employ over 400 people. It’s not easy work. These folks have to work on their feet in cold temperatures wearing lots of protective equipment. But, they enjoy their jobs. Many employees of both of these companies have worked there for many years. Mr. Catelli introduced us to Phil, who has been cutting meat for 57 years.

    As on the harvest side, nothing I saw in fabrication and packaging surprised me. The process was clean and efficient. I have no doubt that they are producing a safe and wholesome product. Please let me know if you have any questions.

    I wanted to share a few more pictures from the plant.
    Some meat loaf blend heading from the grinder to packaging
    in the Catelli Brothers plant. It contains veal, beef, and pork.

    The carcasses at Catelli Brothers are harvested
    in both the US and Canada. So, the
    Canadian food safety system inspects
     the carcasses that are imported.

    Carcasses at Catelli Brothers are split into two sides like a beef
    or pork carcass, whereas those from Marcho Farms are left intact
    like a lamb carcass. Each company does what works best for them.
    When the meat cutter removes all the meat from the ribs like this,
    we say its ‘Frenched.’ These are Frenched veal racks waiting
    for the meat cutter to cut them into Frenched veal rib chops.
    Veal shanks for Osso Bucco.

    Veal cutlets. They have been tenderized.