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A fabrication specialist checking carcass temperatures.

I think using animals for food is an ethical thing to do, but we've got to do it right. We've got to give those animals a decent life and we've got to give them a painless death. We owe the animal respect. Temple Grandin



Unfortunately the pigs have to be slaughtered in order for us to have pork to eat. But the fact that the animal will be killed doesn't mean that it may be handled without compassion. Truebridge believes in protecting the welfare of its pigs at every stage of their lives. To that end, there is always a dedicated Truebridge staff member present with the pigs at the processing plant, to make sure they are gently handled until the very end.

The goal of slaughter is to end the lives of the pigs with as little pain or stress as possible, then chill their carcasses efficiently, to maintain meat quality and food safety.


The plant where Truebridge pigs are processed uses CO2 to anesthetize the pigs before they are killed. This method is not only humane, it is also technically simple, which makes it less likely that any problems occur.

Truebridge evaluator taking notes in cooler.   Temperature reading being taken on the fabrication line.
Data being recorded for carcasses in cooler.   Temperature measurements being taken on the line.
Bagged samples in the laboratory office.   Data for ongoing shelf life study.
Microbiological samples for shelf life studies.   Shelf life study data.

The pigs are herded down a wide corridor and then enter an elevator in groups of three or four. This is a better welfare practice because pigs feel much more relaxed in groups. The elevator takes the pigs to a lower level where they breathe in CO2 gas, quickly losing consciousness. There are genetic differences in the pigs' reactions to CO2. However, Truebridge genetics are consistent, and they respond well to this form of anesthesia. Nonetheless, veterinarians monitor this phase to make sure the animals really don't feel any pain and the entire process is conducted carefully and ethically.

Once they are knocked out, the pigs are slaughtered by exsanguination. Within a few seconds they bleed out and their heart stops beating. If the blood was not removed from the carcass in this way, the meat would appear dark and contain small blood clots, making it undesirable to eat.

Skin & Offal

Truebridge utilizes a plant that keeps the skin on the carcass. Keeping the skin intact is preferable because skin acts as a natural barrier to bacteria. Additionally, some chefs prefer to have access to cuts with skin, especially bellies. When the skin is left on, the hair has to be removed. To do this, the skin is first heated with 140˚F water to loosen the hair. If exposed to the hot water for longer than 6 minutes, the skin and eventually meat, will be negatively affected, so the time carcasses spend immersed in the heated vats is carefully monitored by Truebridge staff. Next, the carcass goes through a dehairer machine, which has rubber paddles that catch and pull the hair off.

The last stage before cooling the carcass is to remove the head and the internal organs, which are called offal. The intestinal tract of any animal contains bacteria that help in the digestion of food. Truebridge pigs are delivered the night before they are slaughtered both to give them plenty of time to recover from the truck ride, and to allow their intestinal tracts to empty out. The empty intestinal tract allows for easier removal and less intestinal spillage, which would result in USDA required trim and condemnation.


From the point at which the pig is anesthetized, it takes less than 40 minutes until its carcass enters the cooler. The manner in which the meat is cooled critically impacts its quality, safety, and shelf life.

To understand meat quality, a basic understanding of what happens to the muscles of the pig is needed. Have you ever had a hard work out or done something really physical around the house, then the next day your muscles were sore?

For normal daily activities, the heart can pump enough blood to supply your muscles with sufficient oxygen and fuel. But when you physically exert your muscles, your heart can't keep up. Your body can keep going because your muscles have a "back up" store of energy called glycogen. One of the by-products of your muscles converting glycogen to energy is lactic acid. It is the build-up of lactic acid that causes your muscles to be sore. Over time, the lactic acid is filtered out of your muscles by normal blood flow, and the soreness you feel goes away.

The same process happens after the death of the pig. Because the heart has stopped supplying blood to the muscles, they immediately start using up the glycogen stores that are present at the time of death. How much glycogen is present depends on the pig's health, its quality of life, and how little stressed it was prior to death. As the muscles process the glycogen for energy this last time, they contract (a process known as rigor mortis) and lactic acid is produced.

Lactic acid acts like any other acid and lowers the pH of the meat. At the time of death, muscle pH is typically around 7.2. The ideal pH for meat color and moisture retention is about 5.5. Meat scientists have researched how to control this process through temperature, so that optimal pH can be achieved.

If the meat is cooled too quickly, it freezes before the pH is able to reach 5.5 and the meat is not be able to retain moisture. The scientific measure for this is called Water Holding Capacity (WHC.) Meat with poor WHC is dark, dry-looking, and tough when cooked.

On the other hand, if the meat is cooled too slowly, the lactic acid process carries on for too long, and the pH drops below 5.5. In this case, the meat becomes very soft and pale in color, and its cooked texture is equally undesirable.

Meat scientists have researched the ideal cooling curve, but as no two pigs are exactly the same size and shape, a lot of variation occurs.

The plant where Truebridge pork is processed uses a highly effective and well-established method for cooling carcass temperature. The carcasses are well-spaced within a cooling room fitted with water sprayers. These stream cold water across the surface of the carcasses during the cooling period, providing efficient and precise cooling, minimizing risk of microbial contamination.

Truebridge routinely places temperature probes in the carcasses, which take continuous readings as they are cooled. This information can be viewed on a computer and used to create situation-specific temperature curves to ensure that the rate of cooling is within acceptable limits. The cooling curve is affected by the size and shape of the carcasses, how many are placed in the cooler at one time, and how far apart they are spaced. Monitoring it helps ensure small management tasks, like spacing carcasses the correct distance apart, are performed accurately.

Maintaining the "Cold Chain"

Once the carcasses are chilled to around 40˚F, they must remain at this temperature. Microbes exist on every surface we encounter, from 20 miles beneath the Earth's surface to 20 miles above it, and these helpful microbes are responsible for the natural process of decomposition. Thus, they also determine the shelf life of everything we eat. Although some microbes can survive well below the freezing point (and well above the boiling point), they do their work slower at colder temperatures. Inversely, when the meat temperature comes closer to room temperature, the microbes work faster.

Keeping the meat temperature within this ideal range, from the moment it is first cooled, to the point where it is cooked, is called "maintaining the cold chain."

So, Truebridge continues to monitor the temperature of the meat as it is processed, stored, and transported. The fabrication team takes random temperature measurements as the meat moves through different stages at the processing plant. They also watch to make sure the line speeds are efficient, so that the meat being cut and packaged remains within the ideal temperature range.

The coolers used to store the meat are subject to 24-hour monitoring, then refrigerated trucks maintaining temperatures below 40˚F pick the meat up and deliver it to customers. Truebridge works with specialized shipping companies that keep temperature logs on their trucks, so they can confirm temperature readings at the time of loading, during transport, and upon delivery of the product. Special temperature-loggers that digitally record minute-to-minute temperature levels, are placed inside boxed product, so that Truebridge knows there are no unexpected gaps in the cold chain.

Food Safety

Aside from preserving a conveniently long shelf life, there is a second concern related to microbes. The meat must be protected from any bacterial contamination that might lead to food safety issues.

Careful measures are taken to make sure the facilities and tools used are hygienic and in good working order. The plant has a HACCP plan in place and conducts on-going measurements and other testing to ensure the facilities are always clean and meet USDA standards.

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