By Alyssa LaDuke

Long johns and a winter hat are what the tired young man puts on each morning before heading to work.

When he arrives, he puts on his large, stained, white lab coat and apron. He is beginning another day’s work. He pushes open the door to the  department and feels a cold gust of air as the scent of fish and beef blood hits his nose, while the sound of the loud saw cutting away at large slabs of meat fills the room.

Ross Andrews is a 27-year-old meat cutter and Kalamazoo Valley Community College student who has been working at Sam’s Club for six years, three of which he has spent in the meat department. “I don’t even notice the beef blood smell anymore,” says Andrews.

Joe Kmet, a 27-year-old Western Michigan University graduate who has worked in Sam’s Club’s meat department for 5 ½ years, is a colleague of Andrews. “The worst part is having wet feet and constantly having to walk around with wet feet in the cold department and freezers.”

Raw Meat Safety

The constant sanitation necessary is one of the most difficult parts about working in the meat department because employees constantly have to clean, according to Kmet.

In the United States, there has been a 14 percent increase in cases of campylobacteriosis from 2008 to 2011, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Campylobacteriosis is a bacterial infectious disease usually caused by eating raw or undercooked poultry or from cross-contamination of raw or undercooked poultry.

By 2020, the rate of people who become infected with camplyobacteriosis is projected to decrease from 14.31 to 8.5 for every 100,000 people. However, it is suspected that for every case reported, 30 more go unreported, according to the CDC’s FoodNet division.

Andrews, Kmet and the several other meat department employees must take proper safety precautions due to the sharp machinery and knives that can take off three to four fingers if an accident occurred, according to Andrews. This is why he and his co-workers make sure to follow all safety rules and precautions. The manager of the meat department is also “a stickler on safety,” to keep accidents from happening to the workers in his department, says Andrews.

Meat Sales a Key Source of Revenue

The sales made from the meat department account for more than $10,000 of revenue a day for Sam’s Club, says Andrews.

The Portage Sam’s Club provides meat to about a dozen restaurants and catering companies throughout Kalamazoo County, including Indian Cuisine, Cosmo’s, Ray Ray’s, and Pistachio Catering, according to Andrews.

So why do all of these restaurants go to the large corporate chain to get their meat?

“Sam’s Club meat is better because it is cut fresh every day and we keep a low inventory so that our meat is not sitting in the cooler for a month,” says Charles Wellington, 25-year-old meat cutter who has been working in Sam’s Club’s meat department for four years.

“You ruined my Christmas!” is one of the worst things Kmet says he has ever heard from a customer. The customer was upset because they ran out of the product desired due to an order not being large enough, and although it is not the responsibility of Kmet, or the several other employees who received grief that day, it still bothered him that he was unable to satisfy the customer.

When customers leave happy, it gives the employees a great amount of satisfaction and pride in their job, says Wellington.