SALISBURY, Md.-- Frank Perdue, a man who made chicken choking into a multi-million dollar empire, died today at the age of 84. Purdue revolutionized the poultry processing industry by introducing the use of asphyxiation as a means for slaughtering large numbers of chickens easily and efficiently.
Mr. Purdue developed his obsession with cocks (and hens) as a boy in rural Maryland. Reflecting on his career later in life, Frank was known to smile slyly as he uttered his now famous catch-phrase, "it takes a touch man to make a tender chicken." While stories about his early years have led some to question Mr. Purdue's morals, no one questions the impact he had on the American diet.
"Frank understood chickens," said Glen Machesney, professor of culinary anthropology at Ball State University. "He also understood Americans want an affordable and tasty alterative to beef, pork or lamb and realized early on the chicken fit the bill. To get the production levels he needed - and the quality that was required - Frank understood that he'd have to break a few rules."
Aside from what some animal-rights activists have termed "concentration camps for chickens", Purdue was also an early proponent of the rampant use of chemicals and hormones. His enthusiasm was sometimes a step ahead of the rest of the industry (or Federal regulators) as new practices were often put into production without any testing or oversight.
This resulted in fines from time to time. This was the case 1989 when 36 percent of his workforce at two North Carolina plants was found to have symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Purdue felt that the $40,000 in fines was a small price to pay to study the efficiency of manual strangulation.
Issues with chemicals cast a longer shadow over the Purdue empire when dangerous levels or arsenic, lead, mercury, and other substances were discovered in several tons of processed chicken parts destined for institutional customers in the Midwest. Again, these chemicals were later learned to have been part of another experiment on killing techniques.
Frank's son Jim, who took over day-to-day operations of the company in 1991 expressed sorrow over the loss of his father. "They say you only find one true love in your life and my dad was blessed with two. The first was my mom Mitzi, and the second was, of course, his chickens. He will be missed." Perdue is survived by his wife, Mitzi, four children; and 12 grandchildren.