I demolished two pieces of McDonald’s Ayam Goreng – Spicy, mind you – before writing this article.
It’s my favourite order at the quick service restaurant, and when the invitation came to visit the poultry processing plant where McDonald’s Ayam Goreng is made, I told my editor that it was my dream assignment.
Friends claimed that I wouldn’t even look at fried chicken after the visit (which they assumed would be traumatising) to Dindings Poultry Processing Sdn Bhd (DPP) in Sitiawan, Perak, to see the chickens which eventually become McD’s Ayam Goreng. Initially, I was afraid that they might be right.
WHERE IT ALL HAPPENS
A 95%-owned subsidiary of Malayan Flour Mills Berhad, DPP has been one of the suppliers of processed poultry products for McDonald’s Malaysia since 2002. It is also where what McDonald’s has dubbed its “farm to fork” experience begins.
DPP is one of the largest poultry processing plants in Malaysia, designed according to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards and halal-certified by the Islamic Development Department of Malaysia (Jakim).
“Our farms and processing facility are compliant with McDonald’s Animal Health and Welfare Standards, which pertains to how the chicken is treated in terms of disease prevention, shelter, management and nutrition. This includes humane handling,” says DPP business development and corporate affairs director Azhari Arshad, who is showing us around during the media visit.
“As such, the chickens are healthy, well-nourished and show no signs of distress or discomfort.”
DPP processes about 11,000 birds daily for the supply of bone-in chicken for McDonald’s Malaysia.
The tour of the processing plant starts backwards. We see how the chickens are packed for distribution, how they are processed, and finally how they are slaughtered. Guess they saved the best – and bloodiest – for last!
After putting on our lab coats and rubber boots – we were not allowed to carry cameras, mobile phones, or wear any jewellery or watches – we embark on the tour around DPP.
A RIGID PROCESS
In the cold processing room, we see chickens hanging from hooks and moving in a steady stream on a belt conveyor system.
Each specialised hook determines how heavy the chicken is, and “drops off” the chicken at designated areas, categorised according to the weight of the birds.
“There are five types of cuts used for McDonald’s Ayam Goreng – the drumstick, wing, keel, rib and thigh,” says Azhari. The weight and size of each cut is precisely determined.
Each worker is provided with his or her own set of knives, which means that different knives are used during each shift. The knives are replaced every six months to maintain the quality of the cut.
“There are strict quality checks in our processing lines at the manufacturing facility, to ensure that the processed chickens are free from bruises, feathers and other foreign objects, and that there are no broken pieces,” says Azhari.
“All processing lines are also equipped with metal detectors,” he adds. Eagle-eyed workers keep a constant watch over the line, to try to ensure no nasty surprises later.
DPP delivers about 100 to 150 tonnes of boneless chicken to MacFood Services (M) Sdn Bhd every month to make McDonald’s Malaysia’s supply of patties, nuggets and other chicken-based products.
However, it processes about 11,000 birds for the bone-in chicken supply – which becomes fried chicken – for McDonald’s Malaysia every day.
McDonald’s Malaysia’s Ayam Goreng comes in Regular or Spicy flavours, and if you have wondered how the chicken cuts are thoroughly seasoned, it’s thanks to the vacuum tumbling method.
The chicken cuts are placed in giant drums, from which air is removed with a vacuum pump. When the drum rotates, the chicken pieces expand and this exposes more surface area to absorb the marinade.
Vacuum tumbling allows for even distribution of flavouring in the chicken pieces, and results in a juicier, more tender end product.
After the vacuum tumbling process, the pieces are packed and stored in the processing facility. “McDonald’s Ayam Goreng is freshly battered, breaded and fried in the restaurants,” Azhari explains.
The chicken pieces are kept chilled or frozen throughout the cold chain – in a chiller at 0°C to -4°C, right up until they reach McDonald’s restaurants.
“We transport the processed chicken pieces to the restaurants using temperature-controlled trucks, and deliveries are done on a daily basis to ensure maximum freshness,” says Azhari.
McDonald’s Malaysia looks to DPP to cater to its 125 million consumers yearly; 60% of the products they consume are chicken-based.
“Dindings has the capacity to meet that demand. The company meets all of our requirements – the products are of high quality, and have to meet rigid specifications before they get to us. Also, DPP places importance on animal welfare, which is important to us too,” says McDonald’s Malaysia managing director Azmir Jaafar.
DPP has a main breeder and broiler farm in Perak and additional farms in several other areas in Peninsular Malaysia.
Eggs from the breeder farm are hatched in a hatchery. These are the parent chickens for the broilers, which are bred and raised specifically for meat production. Breeders live for 60 to 65 weeks and each hen produces around 140 chicks in its lifetime.
The poultry farms use a 100% closed-house system, with regulated air vents pumping in fresh air, and the temperature constantly maintained at between 25°C and 29°C.
“The main reason for our closed-house system, which meets international biosecurity requirements, is to ensure that the houses are proofed against contact with wild birds. This is to avoid the threat of diseases like avian influenza.
“Another reason for this system is for temperature control to prevent heat stress on the brood, which we source from major breeder companies around the world,” says Azhari.
ADHERING TO HALAL STANDARDS
Finally, it came time to witness the slaughtering of chickens, one of the most important processes here, which is conducted in accordance with Jakim’s regulations.
“McDonald’s Malaysia was the first quick service restaurant chain to be awarded a halal certificate in Malaysia – in the early 90s – which is a testament to our commitment to being a leader in serving quality halal food,” says Azmir.
The first rule of halal slaughtering is that the animal must be alive at the time of its slaughter.
Slaughtering must be done by a sane adult Muslim, and DPP employs 18 butchers certified by the Jabatan Agama Islam Perak.
They work in shifts and are assigned to kill about 3,500 live chickens in one session. Working in batches of five, they take turns to kill up to 85,000 live chickens daily.
Using a sharp knife, the butcher must sever the windpipe, oesophagus, jugular vein and carotid artery in one swift motion. The name of Allah must be invoked at the time of slaughter.
There are five main pipelines at the slaughterhouse, which produce constant streams of water used to clean the knives after each chicken is slaughtered.
It is not halal to use a bloodstained or dirty knife, hence the slaughterers must clean the knives thoroughly before each use.
The blood and offal are sent to DPP’s nearby waste treatment plant, to avoid any seepage into the drains.
The chickens are then scalded in water at between 56°C and 65°C. “This is the optimum temperature range for water for scalding. It makes it easier to defeather the chicken. If the water is boiling hot, it would ruin the chicken,” says Azhari.
After the chickens have their feathers and internal organs removed, they are taken for further processing at the plant.
The tour comes to an end, and oddly enough, none of the reporters say that they are turned off by the idea of eating fried chicken again.
I, for one, wasn’t – and proved my friends wrong by having McD’s Ayam Goreng right after the plant visit.
Knowing and appreciating where my food comes from made each bite taste better.