5/11/2013 7:00 AM
By Teresa McMinn Southeastern Pa. Correspondent
SOUDERTON, Pa. — Bruce Sensenig said the efficiency of a processing plant, which handles his beef cattle, impressed him.
Sensenig, of North Cornwall Township, Lebanon County, Pa., and his sons, Wilmer, 15, and Nelson, 23, recently toured JBS-Souderton, a beef processing plant in Montgomery County, Pa.
“We send cattle here,” Sensenig said of the roughly 300 Black Angus beef cows he raises and sells to the plant each year.
“I really enjoyed it,” he said of the tour.
“It’s amazing they can keep all the products and destinations separate,” Sensenig said of the plant’s packaging operation.
The plant has about 1,200 employees, two USDA in-house veterinarians and 11 inspectors. It slaughters more than 2,100 cows — including Holstein, Hereford and Angus breeds — per day.
The company’s history dates to 1877 when beef was delivered via horse-drawn wagon.
After a series of updates over the years, automated hide pullers were added to increase slaughter capacity.
Smithfield Foods purchased the plant in 2001, then sold the operation to JBS USA in 2008.
Recent improvements include a 180-degree carcass wash, cameras to improve the grading process, a waste water treatment facility and cooler expansion project.
Last year, the plant generated $865 million in sales revenue.
Today, the plant produces about 1.3 million pounds of ground beef patties per week for Wendy’s hamburgers, said Elliot Keller, general manager of the JBS Souderton plant.
“We supply the whole Northeast region,” said Keller, an employee at the plant for nearly 30 years. “We process about 600,000 head of cattle a year.”
The Souderton plant is the largest operation of its kind east of Chicago and produces beef primarily under the Swift brand, he said.
To ensure cleanliness, tours of the plant are led backward, starting with employees who work with cuts of beef in cooled areas and ending at a barn where dairy and beef cattle are kept before slaughter.
The plant includes a series of overhead conveyor belt mechanisms that move full cow carcasses hung from their hind legs from room to room, ultimately producing sides and smaller cuts of beef throughout the process.
Homer Eberly, of Stevens, Lancaster County, Pa., was also on the tour as was Ann Nogan, executive vice president of the state’s Center for Beef Excellence.
“I feed cattle and contract a few,” Eberly said of his deal with JBS, which buys about two-thirds of the 400 Angus cows he feeds each year.
Chandler Keys, who was raised on a farm in Montgomery County, Md., and owns the Keys Group in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, where he heads government affairs and industry relations for JBS, also followed the tour.
“This plant is strategically located to do well,” Keys said.