Skip to main content

Revolutionary Processing Model Vaults Prestage Farms to the Top of the Industry

Innovation in action is an inspiring thing. On a large scale, technological progress can feel abstract, but when applied, the value of innovation is self-evident. Our most impactful tech advances feel natural because they make improvements that are obvious to the untrained eye, even when—especially when—the problem may not have been as obvious. That’s the power of innovation: in one seamless action, it clarifies the challenge and provides an equally clear solution.

In Numbers

  • Camden, SC
  • 295,000 s.f.
    Square Footage
  • 16 months

This apex of innovation is on full display at the Prestage Foods of South Carolina operation in Camden. What the turkey processor has achieved at scale is nothing short of remarkable. Prestage took a model that was working and wiped the slate clean to make room for a creative new approach that allows for a production capacity of 48,000 birds per day with greater efficiency than similarly sized facilities.


Operation Overhaul


True to its philosophy of continuous improvement, Prestage Foods stressed process innovation as a top priority in the earliest stages of its partnership with Gray.


“When you’re green, you grow, and when you’re ripe, you rot.” This saying was originally coined by McDonald’s CEO Ray Kroc but overheard and borrowed by then Gray CEO Howard Gray. This axiom, that has now become common vernacular around Gray, illustrates the company’s willingness to take on challenges and has kept innovation at the forefront of our business model as we’ve grown and evolved over the decades. Such an attitude made Gray a perfect fit as Prestage Foods’ design-build partner. Together, the companies eschewed “business as usual” in favor of a focused vision that would set a new national standard for poultry processing.


Following visits to Europe and detailed evaluations of the effectiveness of air-chill processing, Prestage quickly identified this model as the most crucial component of its innovation strategy, and one that would be supported by cutting-edge initiatives for process automation, system integration, and hygienic design. The Gray team considered improvements to operational efficiency, food safety, and ease of maintenance throughout the design process, and the end solution checked all the boxes for a world-class facility.


Air-Chill Process Features:


  • Six separate chilling tunnels with 8,000 turkeys apiece to maintain maximum traceability and food safety
  • Four levels of chilling and misting cabinets to maintain product quality
  • Automated conveyance and packaging systems for various product cuts
  • Fresh product transport (32–40 °F) and blast-freezing (-20 °F) capabilities

Industry-Leading Automation


Automating processes wherever possible was a driving force for Prestage Foods during the design phase and beyond. Concerning labor markets trends, coupled with the traditional struggles of staffing a poultry processing facility, made this initiative a top priority. Foremost was carefully vetting process equipment vendors for offerings that supported seamless Industry 5.0 integrations. Prestage and Gray partnered with Marel, a market leader in turkey processing and air-chill facilities, for a turnkey facility automation solution.


Business Impacts:


  • Automates stages of product conveyance and packaging with Industry 5.0 integrations
  • Ranks among world’s most efficient operations in terms of harvested turkey breast per man hour
  • Solves staffing challenges while saving more than $15 million annually on labor
  • Transforms physically demanding evisceration stage into a “no-lift” process for employees and eliminates manual cropping


The Camden facility’s automated systems increase sanitation and product shelf life, while drastically reducing labor counts on the production floor. With advanced technology supporting leaner, more efficient operations for the world-class facility, Prestage will save more than $15 million per year. Such impressive returns quickly justified the capital investment in Marel’s technology, and Prestage believes these benefits will only be amplified as labor market trends continue to indicate industry-wide staffing shortages.


Leaner operations haven’t kept Prestage Foods from maximizing production capacity and efficiency. Thanks to the incorporation of advanced automation, the plant’s production of harvested turkey breast per man hour worked ranks among the most efficient poultry operations in the world. As a result, Prestage Foods of South Carolina can produce the same volume of harvested turkey breast as similarly sized facilities, but with roughly 350 fewer employees.

Safer, Healthier, Tastier Products


Maintaining the highest standards for food safety was paramount to the sanitary design of the facility’s processes. The plant includes three dedicated personnel streams to keep live intake, primary processing, and secondary processing fully segregated to avoid cross-contamination between departments. The isolated design offers major advantages for facility sanitation, as this allows cleaning and sanitation processes to commence in one area without disrupting operations in another, minimizing downtime.


The plant’s European-style air-chill turkey processing model is a significant change from traditional water-chill processing. To maintain product separation and continuous processing, birds are individually suspended on shackle chains that move via conveyors throughout the refrigerated space. Switching to an air-chilling model improves food safety and vastly reduces the risk of cross-contamination due to the elimination of common chilling water, which can circulate pathogens from one bird to others throughout the system. Air chilling keeps meat tender and eliminates the need to introduce chemicals such as chlorine into food-grade processes, which can be absorbed into the product and impair its flavor, appearance, and nutritional content. Finished products are all natural, USDA Grade A and contain no foreign allergens, chemicals, gluten, or MSG.


Prestage was creative in its food safety measures, introducing interventions not common to the poultry industry, such as the use of pre-scald dry brushes to reduce contamination in the scalding water. The facility’s secondary processing areas also feature innovative technology for food safety, such as the use of Clean-in-Place (CIP) systems, vacuum and pump systems, and an ozone skid system that uses a liquid application to treat conveyor surfaces as well as ambient O2 molecules to treat the water supply. Furthermore, Marel’s SensorX X-ray and metal detection technology ensure that product leaving the facility meets the highest levels of quality and food safety.

Visibility from Start to Finish


While air chilling is known to improve the taste, tenderness, and presentation of turkey end-products, it also offers end-to-end data collection for optimal traceability and the industry’s most precise yield calculations per bird.




  • Accurate reporting of flock weight distribution a full day in advance of cut-up
  • Precise measuring of shackled turkeys throughout air-chill process
  • Tight yield tolerance and even distribution across three production lines for birds entering deboning
  • Multiple quality control stages for secondary processing, including X-ray, metal detection, and manual inspection
  • End-to-end data integrity and ERP storage across integrated QMS, PDS, and WMS systems


Data transmitted by Marel’s SmartWeigher and Innova PDS XL software allows the production planner to precisely measure the weight of the shackled turkeys as they move through the chilling tunnels, resulting in real-time feedback that allows Prestage to identify problems and improve efficiency. After chilling overnight, turkeys are evenly distributed by weight to three automated turkey cut-up modules to ensure the tightest yield tolerance through the debone system. Integrations between the facility’s Carlisle Live Farm Management System and the Marel Innova System offer end-to-end track-and-trace functionality, transmitting information downstream throughout all data collection points, from live-bird shackling to product shipping.


A Promising New Start


Historically, Prestage’s approach to facility and process design has served it well, allowing it to grow into a nationwide business known for quality and service. But rather than remain static in this approach, Prestage Foods dismantled the processes that were getting the job done to strive for something better. The result is an operation that received ProFood World’s 2023 Manufacturing Innovation Award for its operational transformation and complete system integration and automation. This overhaul has improved efficiency and reduced costs for the company while delivering a higher quality, more consistent product without passing costs on to customers. Prestage Foods of South Carolina bucks the status quo and raises the bar for the entire industry with a superior production model that is sure to be the new golden standard for poultry processing.

Get the Latest.