Inspection laws and regulations pertaining to poultry were not enacted in the United States until the late 1900s because most of the poultry was produced by farmers on a small scale and sold, either live or dressed, at local markets. As poultry production and consumption increased during the last five decades, several agencies, acts, and programs were introduced by the federal government to define, regulate, and enforce inspection activities (Table 1). The Poultry Products Inspection Act of 1957 and Wholesome Poultry Products Act of 1968 basically laid out the foundation for the current poultry inspection system.[1] After the establishment of the FSIS, the inspection programs continued to evolve until 1996, when the landmark Pathogen Reduction and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) System, a risk assessment-based inspection program to protect public health, was introduced.1-2-1

Food safety and inspection activities of the FSIS are administered through a national network of some 8000 veterinarians and inspectors. Inspection operations employees implement inspection laws in over 6000 meat and poultry plants in the United States and U.S. territories. Inspection activities of the FSIS to monitor and protect public health are:[3]

1. Ante- and postmortem inspection of poultry intended for human consumption.

2. Pathological, microbiological, and chemical analysis of poultry products for disease, infections, extraneous contaminations, drugs and other chemical residues, or any other adulteration.

3. Emergency response activities involving product retention, detention, or voluntary recall of products containing adulterants.

4. Epidemiological investigations of foodborne health hazards and disease outbreaks.

5. Public education and information programs to ensure safe handling of meat, poultry, and egg products.

6. Monitoring the effectiveness of state inspection programs to ensure equivalence to those under federal acts.

7. Implementation of cooperative food safety strategies to control hazards associated with animal production practices.

8. Monitoring foreign inspection systems and facilities that export products into the United States to ensure equivalence to national standards.

9. Inspection of imported meat and poultry products at the ports of entry into the United States.

10. Representation and coordination of inspection activities with various international health organizations, including Codex Alimentarius Commission.

In each official poultry processing facility, FSIS inspectors perform various specific tasks under the supervision of a veterinarian (inspector-in-charge). Specific in-plant inspection tasks involve: antemortem inspection of live poultry (segregation of diseased animals and separation of dead and dying animals prior to processing); postmortem inspection of poultry carcasses and internal organs (examination of internal and external

Table 1

History of poultry inspection and grading programs in the United States



Inspection program


Rudimentary inspection


NY Live Poultry Commission

Live poultry inspection in NY


Federal Poultry Inspection Service

Inspection of NY dresseda poultry



Banning ''on the farm'' slaughter


Agricultural Marketing Act

Initial grading standards


Poultry Products Inspection Act

Mandatory federal inspection


Talmadge Aiken Act

State inspection programs


Wholesome Poultry Products Act

Inspection of all poultry


Food Safety and Inspection Service

Assumed inspection authority


Pathogen reduction; HACCP ruling

HACCP and microbial testing

aBled and picked poultry, without evisceration. (Adapted from Ref. 1.)

aBled and picked poultry, without evisceration. (Adapted from Ref. 1.)

surfaces of eviscerated carcasses and internal organs); condemnation, reinspection, and final disposition (segregation of carcass, carcass parts, or organs with signs of disease, extraneous contamination, or adulteration; and reinspection of salvaged product); sanitary slaughter and dressing (prevention of contamination of edible carcass components with digestive tract contents); chilling (prompt cooling of carcasses and their edible components, such as liver, heart, gizzard, and necks, where appropriate); plant sanitation [preoperational and operational cleaning and sanitation activities through the implementation of plant-specific Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs)] ; residue monitoring (random screening of abdominal fat tissues for a number of potentially harmful chemicals); monitoring compliance with FSIS food safety performance standards (zero fecal contamination prior to chilling, E. coli and Salmonella testing); and verification of each plant's HACCP program.[3]

Postmortem Carcass Inspection and Disposition

By law, federal inspectors examine, bird-by-bird, the external and internal surfaces, carcasses, and organs after evisceration for signs of systemic disease conditions and/or adulterations that would make all or part of the carcass unfit for human food. Localized conditions on the carcass are removed and condemned. The criteria for causes of condemnation include:[4]

1. Tuberculosis: avian tuberculosis (TB), caused by Mycobacterium avium, is usually a chronic disease of birds. Avian TB has been eradicated in the United States and is rarely observed in mature birds.

2. Leukosis: this category comprises several neoplastic diseases that are caused by viruses. Marek's disease, lymphoid leukosis, reticuloendotheliosis, and lym-phoproliferative conditions cause tumors only in poultry.

3. Septicemia/toxemia: this is a general condemnation category for birds that exhibit gross signs of systemic disturbance. Carcasses condemned for this category are usually emaciated, dehydrated, and show brown discoloration of the coronary fat with pinpoint hemorrhages.

4. Airsacculitis: broad category of inflammation of the respiratory system (i.e., lungs and airsacs) of birds. Stressors during rearing and infectious agents such as Mycoplasma, E. coli, and Chlamydia are often isolated from affected organs."/>
Fig. 1 U.S. poultry inspection and grade marks. (View this art in color at

Table 2 Summary of specifications for A quality ready to cook poultry

Conformation: Breastbone Back

Legs and wings Fleshing: Fat covering:


Free of protruding feathers and hairs

A quality


Slight curve or dent Slight curve Normal

Well fleshed, considering kind and class

Well developed layer specially between heavy feathers tracts

Turkeys (feathers <3/4 in.)



Ducks and geesea (feathers < 1/2 in.) Carcass Parts

All other poultry (feathers < 1/2 in.) Carcass Parts

Exposed flesh:

Weight range Minimum Maximum





Discolorations: Large carcass parts (halves, front and rear halves)


Discolorations: Other parts


Disjointed and broken bones: Missing parts: Freezing defects:

Carcass Breast and legs

Breast and legs

Breast and legs


Large carcass partsc (halves, front and rear halves) Breast and legs Elsewhere

Lightly shaded


Lightly shaded


Lightly shaded

Other partsc

Moderately shadedd Hock of leg Elsewhere

Moderately shadedd Hock of leg Elsewhere

Moderately shadedd

Carcass 1 disjointed and no broken bones. Parts thighs with back portion, legs, or leg quarters may have femur disjointed from the hip joint. Other parts none.

Wing tips and tail. In ducks and geese, the parts of the wing beyond the second joint may be removed if removed at the joint and both wings are so treated. Tail may be removed at the base. Slight darkening on back and drumstick. Overall bright appearance. Occasional pockmarks due to drying. Occasional small areas of clear, pinkish, or reddish colored ice.

aHair or down is permitted on the carcass or part, provided the hair or down is less than 3/16 inch in length, and is scattered so that the carcass or part has a clean appearance, especially on the breast and legs.

bMaximum aggregate area of all exposed flesh. In addition, the carcass or part may have cuts or tears that do not expand or significantly expose flesh, provided the aggregate length of all such cuts and tears does not exceed a length tolerance equal to the permitted dimensions listed above. cFor all parts, trimming of skin along the edge is allowed, provided at least 75% of the normal skin cover associated with the part remains attached, and the remaining skin uniformly covers the outer surface and does not detract from the appearance of the part.

dModerately shaded discolorations and discolorations due to flesh bruising are free of clots and limited to areas other than the breast and legs except for the area adjacent to the hock. Source: From Ref. 7.

5. Synovitis: inflammation of the membranes lining joints and tendon sheets, usually caused by Mycoplasma. Reddened, inflamed, and swollen joints (primarily hock joint) with exudates are trimmed and condemned.

6. Cellulitis: inflammation of the subcutaneous tissues, usually due to introduction of E.coli through skin sores and scratches. If localized, the affected areas are trimmed. Those carcasses with diffuse lesions are condemned as a whole.

7. Tumors: carcasses with single squamous cell carcinomas, adenocarcinomas, lymphomas, or fibromas are usually trimmed. If there is evidence of metastasis, then the whole carcass is condemned.

8. Cadavers: poultry that die from causes other than slaughter are considered cadavers. Birds that die by slaughter typically have a bright, cherry-red appearance at the time they enter the scalder.

9. Overscalding: carcasses that are cooked in the scalder (usually due to a mechanical failure and line stoppage) are condemned as a whole.

10. Contamination: this category includes carcasses that are contaminated with extraneous materials (oil, paint, grease, etc.), those that cannot be inspected because of excessive contamination with digestive tract contents, and those carcasses that are mutilated by equipment.

In addition to these inspection activities, FSIS inspectors conduct prechill and postchill trim checks and carcass reinspections to make sure all carcasses meet national Finished Product Standards. Other inspection activities include monitoring plant SSOPs, HACCP implementation, and records;[5] verification activities; and corrective actions. Products fit for human consumption are allowed to carry the inspection logo, bearing the specific plant number (Fig. 1). Products found unsafe for human consumption are removed from the food chain. The FSIS uses several enforcement tools (warning letters, criminal prosecution, injunctions, withdrawal of inspection, and plant closing) when violations occur.

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