It is early in the morning as a truck reverses into the loading platform at Keekonyokie slaughterhouse in Kiserian, Kajiado County. The bulls have been brought from Kajiado and other neigbouring counties. It is a busy day at this slaughterhouse that directly employs more than 200 people. The Smart Harvest team is here to learn what transpires in a slaughterhouse.
Fit for human consumption
According to Dr Peter Gathura, a senior lecturer at the Department of Public Health, Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Nairobi, a slaughterhouse provides an opportunity for inspection and evaluation of animals to assess if they are fit for human consumption. It allows checking the live animals on arrival, that is ante mortem inspection, as well as the carcasses and other parts such as organs of slaughtered animals during post-mortem inspection.
Once they are here, a supervising veterinarian or meat inspector examines each animal carefully while they are being unloaded to assess if they are healthy. Dr Gathura explains that after inspection, the animals are then allowed to settle down in the holding area. After some time, they are led through the crush to the stunning box. One after another, they enter the box and the door closes. The animal has to stand still and must not move its head. The animal is stunned (a technical method of making an animal immobile or unconscious) by an expert employee using a special gun.
The stunned animal is then pushed out. An employee checks to confirm that the animal is in deep sedation state. The sedated animal is killed by stabbing it on the neck arteries. During the whole process, the animal is handled carefully to avoid contamination. The animal is then let to bleed properly. The carcasses, which are at this point hung onto hooks by their legs, are transported along a rail that traverses from one end of the slaughterhouse to the other. The head is cut off. Conveyor belt workers cut loose the skin from the hind legs, the trunk and front legs. From here, the gastrointestinal tract is removed carefully and the red organs, or offal, are cut out. Finally, a large panga cuts the carcass in two halves from the tail to the neck.
Next, an expert checks the carcass and all organs for abnormalities. The inspection involves visual observation and palpation, which is basically feeling the carcass using the hands for lumps and bumps as well as fractures. After this, the meat inspector makes incisions on various parts of the carcass to look for worms that sometimes reside in the muscles. Different lymph nodes, the kidneys, heart, lungs, liver, spleen, tongue are also incised.
“When an organ say the liver has bumps due to liver fluke infestation, the inspector may trim off a part of the liver and keep it separately. If the whole liver is infested, it is labelled as not fit for human consumption,” says Dr Gathura.
A whole carcass can also be condemned if the animal was extremely emaciated, had many fractures or had infected wounds. The condemned organs or carcasses are then thrown into a condemnation pit by the meat inspector. This pit is always under lock and key to ensure that no condemned organ or carcass leaves the slaughterhouse.
The inspected carcass is then stamped using food grade ink to give the carcass a clean bill of health. It costs Sh800 to slaughter a head of cattle and Sh250 for sheep or goat in most facilities. From the slaughterhouse, the meat is ferried to the butcheries using motorbikes or vehicles mounted with stainless steel containers to avoid contamination.
[Dr Paul Kangethe is a Veterinary Surgeon and the Resident Vet at FarmKenya]