Effects of ambient temperature and water vapor on chamber pressure and oxygen level during low atmospheric pressure stunning of poultry

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The characteristics of the vacuum used in a low atmospheric pressure stunning system to stun (render unconscious) poultry prior to slaughter are described. A vacuum chamber is pumped by a wet screw compressor. The vacuum pressure is reduced from ambient atmospheric pressure to an absolute vacuum pressure of ˜250 Torr (˜33 kPa) in ˜67 sec with the vacuum gate valve fully open. At ˜250 Torr, the sliding gate valve is partially closed to reduce effective pumping speed, resulting in a slower rate of decreasing pressure. Ambient temperature affects air density and water vapor pressure and thereby oxygen levels and the time at the minimum total pressure of ˜160 Torr (˜21 kPa) is varied from ˜120 to ˜220 sec to ensure an effective stun within the 280 seconds of each cycle. The reduction in total pressure results in a gradual reduction of oxygen partial pressure that was measured by a solid-state electrochemical oxygen sensor. The reduced oxygen pressure leads to hypoxia, which is recognized as a humane method of stunning poultry. The system maintains an oxygen concentration of <5% for at least 2 minutes, which ensures that birds are irreversibly stunned. Calculated pump down (pressure versus time) data match experimental data very closely because the programmable logic controller and the human machine interface enable precise and accurate control. The vacuum system operates in the turbulent viscous flow regime, and is best characterized by absolute vacuum pressure rather than gauge pressure. Neither the presence of broiler chickens nor different fore-line pipe designs of four parallel commercial systems affected the pressure-time data. Water in wet air always reduces the oxygen concentrations to a value lower than in dry air. The partial pressure of water and oxygen were found to depend on the pump down parameters due to the formation of fog in the chamber and desorption of water from the birds and the walls of the vacuum chamber.

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