Poultry processor Gold Kist to unveil expansion

Published: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Gold Kist, which runs a large poultry processing plant 12 miles west of Live Oak and is the county's largest private employer, is set to become even bigger when an 180,000-square-foot expansion is officially opened Thursday at 10 a.m.
The $70 million expansion, which brings the facility to 380,000 square feet, has been completed and 120 more workers added to the 1,249 employees.
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Charles H. Bronson is giving the keynote address, and Gold Kist President and CEO John Bekkers will also speak.
The facility processes about 1.3 million chickens each week, all of them from Florida farmers and most of it destined to be sold to Publix Super Markets. The Suwannee County plant processes 320 million pounds of chicken every year.
According to company spokeswoman Karla Harvill, the expanded plant will begin processing special Nature Select chicken products. These are cooled by air-chilling rather than water immersion. These particular chickens are also raised without antibiotics and on an all-vegetable diet and will be offered by Publix's GreenWise Market label.
"While a little more expensive to process and to buy, these products appeal to a group of consumers looking for more health-conscious choices," Harvill said.
A study by the University of Nebraska showed that air-chilled chickens have bacteria counts up to 80 percent lower than water-chilled chickens because they don't come in contact with each other while they are being cooled.
The lower bacteria counts also extends shelf life by two to three days, according to researchers.
Water-chilled chicken has whiter skin and a juicier flesh; air-chilled chicken has creamy-looking skin, a firmer texture, and shrinks less when cooked. Both chickens contain the same nutritional value.
Harvill said the expanded plant also will integrate the latest food safety technology and advanced robotic product inventory and order processing system, designed to speed customers' orders.
Gold Kist, which opened in Suwannee County in 1967, contracts with 167 area families to raise three or more broods of chickens a year.
Marina Blomberg can be reached at (352) 374-5025 or blombem@gvillesun.com.

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