Grading

Classifying poultry into ranges of quality is common in most countries around the world. The grades, based on certain standards, are usually developed by the government and can be voluntarily employed by the producers or imposed by a regulatory agency. Prior to the actual grading, poultry are divided into classes according to their species, sex, and age. This is done because each species has its own unique characteristics. The grading is usually done on the ready-to-cook bird; however, an inspection of the live birds can help in assessing the grade. Such an inspection usually includes: (1) general condition of the flock, (2) health of the flock, (3) feathering, (4) conformation, (5) flashing, and (6) lack of defects (1). The grading of the dressed ready-to-cook poultry is more accurate because the feathers have been removed. The five key areas considered in the grading process are (1) the conformation of the carcass, which is related to the presence of defects such as crooked bones, dented breast bones and swollen legs/wings; (2) fleshing, which refers to the amount of meat on the birds (well-fleshed birds are of the highest grade and the breast muscle is commonly used as the main indicator for the degree of fleshing); (3) fat covering, especially over the breast, back, and hips (although in young turkeys and chicken broilers only a moderate amount of fat is expected; (4) the presence of pinfeathers, which will lower the grade (ie, a grade A bird should be free of pinfeathers); and (5) the lack of defects such as bruises, broken bones, missing parts, tears, and discoloration of the skin. Additional information and precise details of the grading system used in the United States can be found in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Poultry Grading Manual (8). In other countries consult the local inspection branch. All the grading systems include tolerances to compensate for interpre tation variations and human error. It should be mentioned that in recent years a grading system based on meat quality attributes such as water-holding capacity and texture has been discussed. Such a system is of interest to further processors who are looking for meat that will hold added moisture and not fall apart during cooking regardless of skin tears or missing parts (5).

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