The Australian red meat processing industry is a significant consumer of water. Water is primarily used to ensure food safety and hygiene during operations.
Drought and resulting water restrictions have put enormous pressure on processing plants to respond to the challenge and reduce water consumption.
The primary source of water on processing sites is raw water.
Raw water originates from either mains water, river, dam etc. Raw water does not include recycled or reused water.
Raw water is primarily used in the following areas:
- slaughter, evisceration - including cleaning
- stockyard - mostly washdown
- inedible and edible offal processing
- casing processing
The consumption of raw water has been significantly - by 11% - reduced since 2003 to an average of 9.4kL/tonne hot standard carcass weight.
There is a large variation in the water consumption across sites depending on factors such as:
- amount of value adding performed
- number and lengths of processing shifts
- types and number of animals processed
- variances of processing equipment and design
The overall water consumption is reduced by recycling and reuse where permitted under stringent food restrictions.
Recycled water is wastewater which has been treated on site and is being returned for non-potable uses such as cattle wash.
Due to food safety requirements, a number of sites are unable to recycle water.
In particular export sites have to comply with the stringent food export safety regulations which limit extensive water recycling.
Reused water is wastewater which is reused within the process before it is sent to treatment.
Reuse amounted to approximately 2% of total water usage.
Since most water is consumed for food hygiene purposes, it is difficult to reuse large quantities of contaminated water within the meat facility.
Increased efficiency in the water consumption of red meat processing plants does not only result in financial savings, but a reduction in the water usage directly impacts on reduced wastewater volumes, making wastewater treatment and disposal easier and cheaper. This is due to the fact that reduced consumption of water directly leads to reduced energy consumption due to the reduced amount of water that needs to be pumped around the plant and treated.
The Australian Meat Processor Corporation and Meat & Livestock Australia are supporting the red meat processing industry to implement a more efficient water usage by:
- Reducing consumption through initiatives such as waterless cleaning
- Increasing reuse / recycling of water through initiatives such as process improvement and tertiary treatment of water
- Increasing usage of alternative sources such as rainwater and geothermal systems
Examples of successful water saving initiatives implemented in the industry include:
- implementation of sealing and cryovac machines throughout the plant to capture water for reuse
- reused water used for yards, washdown, cattle pre-wash, truck washing and other non-potable applications
- instalation of sensors on hand wash stations and sterilisers
- hose nozzle size reduction