Turkey Plant

It was 22 years ago this week when I had work-related experience that I think of every year about this time. I was four months into a new job (the one where I baked my first from-scratch cake), when the owner told me he wanted to bill me out as a consultant, so I needed to go to Joplin, Missouri and join the team (three other people) at the Butterball turkey processing plant.

Butterball Logo

“Great,” I thought, “Three weeks before Thanksgiving. I may never eat turkey again.”

My coworkers on site were all men in their late forties and early fifties, and they were very protective of me. I went on a modified tour of the plant. They kept me out of the kill room and offal pit. Other than that, I saw the whole process.

Butterball had been promised two crews, and I was assigned to the night shift, basically the worst possible position for a morning person. I was to observe the cleaning crew and looking for system improvements. I watched and timed and recorded. Their procedures were excellent: They obviously had been well thought through.

While I was there, I had two unusual encounters. First, one night when my fellow night shift coworker and I were heading out for dinner/breakfast before the shift, we stepped outside the hotel and into the first snowfall of the season. It was also my first snowfall ever. I’d seen it on the ground, but never falling from the sky. I ran around trying to catch flakes on my tongue. My coworker, having been raised in Philly, couldn’t imagine getting to be 22 years old without having seen it snow. He laughed and told me we would make snowballs later. He lived up to his word.

The second memorable encounter was one morning when we were leaving the plant. There were three loose turkeys in the parking lot. These are not bright birds. While they didn’t come right up to us, they didn’t run away either. I wanted them to flee, but I knew they wouldn’t make it on their own. I was shocked at the size of the birds. They were much taller and wider than I expected.

My biggest take away from the entire experience is how clean the whole place was. They weren’t simply hosing things down. Each night machines were taken apart and all surface areas were cleaned – inside and out. The workers genuinely cared about doing a good job. We checked the logs and tasks took the same amount of time before we came as they did when we were observing.

I ate turkey dinner for that Thanksgiving (and ever since) without hesitation.

Have you ever had a glimpse into the sausage factory and still ate the sausage? or What was one of your more unusual job assignments?

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