Meat & Livestock News

Smithfield Foods’ Tar Heel Facility: A Model of Innovation and Sustainability in Pork Processing

Veterinarian observing pigs at pig farm and checking their health and growth.

Smithfield Foods, a subsidiary of WH Group, operates the world’s largest pork processing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina. Established in 1992, the facility covers 985,000 square feet and is strategically designed for efficient production.

With a daily slaughter capacity of 35,000 head, the plant produces 2.08 billion pounds of pork annually.

Technological Advancements

The Tar Heel facility employs cutting-edge technology, including robotic carcass splitters, slicers, and vision systems. These advancements have not only increased production efficiency but also improved worker safety.

The plant produces a variety of pork products, including hams, loins, and marinated filets. Some of these are shipped fresh, while others are sent to Smithfield’s other facilities for further processing.

Value-Added Products and Automation

According to Keller Watts, Chief Business Officer at Smithfield, the company is increasingly focusing on value-added products and automation. The aim is to enhance consistency and relieve workers from monotonous tasks.

Automation has been particularly accelerated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The facility has also successfully implemented automation with the help of equipment companies Frontmatec and Jarvis.

Byproducts and Medical Applications

Smithfield BioScience harvests byproducts for the production of Heparin Sodium, an anticoagulant used in kidney dialysis. Smithfield is the leading supplier of this anticoagulant in the United States.

Additionally, the company is the only U.S.-based vertically integrated supply chain manufacturing Heparin API, used in various medical applications including cardiac surgery and COVID treatments.

Sustainability Initiatives

The Tar Heel facility is committed to sustainability. It produces renewable natural gas from its wastewater treatment system, which powers the facility and over 2,000 homes and businesses.

Smithfield also operates a $30 million municipal water plant supplying water to Tar Heel and has systems in place for water reuse and waste material recycling.

Future Focus

The facility is adapting to attract and retain a younger workforce. According to Andrea Tucker, the complex manager of Tar Heel, the next generation prefers hands-on learning over traditional methods.

Automation and adaptability are key to keeping this new workforce engaged and satisfied.

Smithfield Foods’ Tar Heel facility stands as a testament to innovation, efficiency, and sustainability in the pork processing industry. With its focus on technological advancements, value-added products, and sustainability, it sets a high standard for the industry.