Salmonella at KFC
Yesterday, the front pages of two of the larger circulated newspapers here (L’express & Le Matinal) featured articles about the recent salmonella outbreak that was just discovered at the island’s KFC locations.
KFC is very popular here. While there is only one McDonald’s, there are over a dozen KFCs. I think the heavy Hindi presence on the island has something to do with this, as well as, the menu at Micky D’s being heavily loaded with all things chicken.
The Minister of Health closed 11 of the franchises (there are 14 operating in total in Mauritius) as of yesterday morning, but now it appears that all of the KFCs have been temporarily shuttered with 10 tons of chicken seized for inspection and testing. I have no clue where this chicken came from, but I suspect within the coming days as the story rolls out like a soap opera, we’ll find out.
I applaud the Ministry of Health for taking action and doing surprise inspections at restaurants. This should be going on all the time, which I’m quite certain it is not. There’s chatter on the streets that this surprise inspection was in fact because of some political motivation or industrial sabotage.
Then again, everything here has some sort of unspoken underlying cause and effect and people love to gossip and speculate. It is a very small country and words of all sorts move in and out of the concrete cracks all the time.
I can’t say that I’m shocked nor surprised. Salmonella outbreaks have been popping up back in the States at an alarming rate. Which is rather horrible considering that America is supposed to have one of the toughest food and beverage safety standards on the planet.
I can’t even shake my ‘hey, I’m an American and our USDA FSIS rocks!’ pom poms at anyone. People are puking it out back home just like they are here.
My Chicken Connection
By sheer luck of the constellations, because I would never, ever have placed myself in the position that I was placed, I had the lifetime opportunity (let’s call it that) while working at the consulting firm here, to be assigned to a project that involved a poultry processing plant.
Of course it would have to be me. Of all the managers at the firm (all 12 of us), I was the only one with any relevant warehouse and F&B plant manufacturing experience. And so I bravely went down the rabbit’s hole with clipboard in hand to see how Africa’s chickens are made and manufactured.
Even though I was a tad uneasy when I was first told that I would be heading into the world of meat and other various food and beverage manufaturing/processing, I was also rather excited. Not Christmas is coming excited, but excited none the less. I’ve never been in a meat processing facility of any kind and it would be educational to see how the food I eat made it from farm to table.
And for me, this would also be such an incredibly different experience from any of the plants I had worked in back in the States. This was a plant on an African island nation. There was bound to be something to hold my interest.
And indeed, there were many points of interest, starting with what I had to wear to go on my tour of the facility.
Sloshing around in the giant white rubber boots they gave me because all other pairs my size were apparently taken, I buttoned up my white lab coat and tucked my hair up into the hair net. I was ready to be poulty educated, but I couldn’t help thinking that apart from the boots all the gear looked like it should be in a hospital or a medical clinic, not a manufacturing facility. Perhaps the purchasing department got a bulk discount on medical or laboratory uniforms.
During the tour, I kept thinking of myself as a scientist on a secret research mission since there was a definite 1960’s vibe going on with the lab coats. In fact, many times an arial shot of the shop floor wouldn’t have looked out-of-place in a 007 film’s secret lair where all the bad guys were running about wearing matching lab coats and boots. The chicken carcasses zig-zagging through the place would need to be replaced by giant boxes or brightly colored tubs, but it really wouldn’t be that far off.
As we moved from station to station, I just couldn’t help thinking, “why can’t this be a chocolate factory or a textile mill.” But, I went along and listened to all the facts presented to us. From the ‘kill room’ which I did not enter simply because I felt it best not to lose my nuggets (yes, we had been given a lunch of chicken nuggets prior to the tour) in front of the crew to the final cutting and packaging of giblets, we saw it all.
We had been shown the tour in reverse order and the smell from the ‘rendering’ building was just a tad overwhelming for me. I told everyone that I was going to allow myself to use my imagination to envision how the live birds were strung up on the conveyor belt, electrocuted, halal throat slit, etc.
However by sheer luck and unfortunate timing, I did get to witness the blood spattered and feather coated glass window that separated the main office that overlooked the de-feathering machine at one of the smaller plants we visited later in the day.
My imaginary visions were not that far off from reality, although I was later told by one of my team that the de-feathering machine was actually rather cool to see up close and in action. This would just have to be one of those many missed moments.
I never did make it out to the farms to see the chickens stacked many to a cage being stuffed with antibiotics. But I did get to attend many meetings where I listened to how eggs ultimately became chickens which then ultimately became dinner ingredients.
The costing structures were long and detailed. The manufacturing routings simple and yet, somehow complex. But, the one thing that always struck me was that there wasn’t ever any mention to have steps included for QA testing of the chicken. The plant was clean and had standards to keep things sanitary, but there really wasn’t any type of regular and consistent QA check for salmonella and other such things mentioned and required.
Perhaps, it’s standard practice in the industry in many countries. Maybe it’s all handled out at the farms. I wouldn’t know because I’m not a poultry processing expert. Although, now I do know more than I ever thought I would know about chicken meat and that’s something for the expat living memory book.
The images have faded from my memory, but every now and again I do get a whiff of something that pulls at my olfactory bank. And yes, I still eat chicken, but I’m afraid that those juicy breasts will be pulled from the cooking rotation for a while until the reality/scandal/rumors/investigation/sabotage/story-in-the-making subsides.
The only true fact for myself is that real free-range, organic, quality-inspected chicken will be consumed by me in massive amounts as soon as I can get my hands on some. And, I wish we could have kept the boots. They would come in handy during cyclone season.