large cooler, where it is stored before
being transported to a marination room
where the meat is marinated with specific
seasonings based on the flavor or variety
of jerky being produced. After the meat
is marinated, it goes through a tumbling
process before being transferred to a marination cooler that can hold up to 750,000
pounds of meat. The meat remains in the
marination cooler between 24 and 72
hours, based on the specific product specification, before moving on to the next step
of the process.
When the meat leaves the marination
cooler, it advances to the processing room
where pieces of meat are transported via
an overhead conveyor line and fed into a
slicer. From there, the sliced meat travels
on another conveyor to an area where
employees hand-hang slices onto rolling
trucks. When those trucks are full, they are
taken into a staging area for the smokehouse, where the meat is cooked.
Once in the smokehouses, the jerky
cooks for between 3-10 hours depending
on the specific product. Though Tebay says
the average smokehouse time is between
four to four-and-a-half hours. The smokehouses at the Alpena facility have the ability to use both liquid smoke and natural
smoke. After leaving the smokehouse,
the jerky is taken to another holding area,
where it cools to room temperature before
moving on to be packaged.
Package sizes range anywhere from less
than an ounce all the way up to one pound.
Alpena's 11 packaging lines, when running
at full capacity, have the ability to package
860 bags of product a minute. The fastest
lines have the capability to package 100
bags a minute.
On its way to being packaged, the jerky
is twice subjected to metal detection to
ensure safety, and bursts of nitrogen are
injected into the package at two points
during the process. This is done to help
keep oxygen levels extremely low inside
the package to ensure the jerky's shelf-life,
which is 18 months. Each packaging line
also uses a checkweigher to account for
consistency. Packages that are too heavy,
or too light, are automatically rejected and
the product is reworked.
Quality checks take place every 5-10
minutes on the packaging line, and one
specific test analyzes oxygen content, with
the ideal range checking in at less than
one percent. “We pride ourselves on qual-
ity,” Tebay said. “We have a lot of quality
checks, double and triple checking to make
sure everything is right.”
From there, the packaged jerky moves
on to the final steps of the process, where
it is boxed and readied for transport via
semi to the Iowa distribution centers.
Between 10 and 15 trucks a day leave
the Alpena facility full of finished product
headed for the Iowa distribution centers —
and ultimately the consumer.