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V FS QS Facts
FSQS-49 February 1981
Each year over 4 billion birds are slaughtered and inspected by
the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Chickens comprise about 96
percent of the slaughter, and the remainder includes turkeys,
ducks, geese, and guinea fowl.
The Federal Meat and Poultry Inspection Program is responsible
for assuring that poultry is wholesome, safe, and truthfully
labeled. The program is operated by the Food Safety and Quality
Service. Although inspection of red meat became mandatory in
1907, inspection of poultry was not mandatory until January 1,
1959 after passage of the Poultry Products Inspection Act in
1957. Until that time, inspection of poultry was voluntary.
Since then, the poultry industry has experienced significant
growth. Total volume of poultry product slaughtered under
Federal inspection in 1979 amounted to nearly 14 billion pounds,
compared to about 5 billion pounds in 1960.
The inspection law covers all raw carcass poultry sold in
interstate commerce (except for small farm flocks) as well as all
processed poultry products such as frozen dinners and soups.
FSQS conducts poultry inspection in about 3,000 slaughtering and
In recent years, inflation and expanded production have been
straining the Department's inspection budget.
To help control costs and preserve consumer protection, the Food
Safety and Quality Service is reviewing inspection procedures to
determine more efficient ways to inspect poultry and poultry
products. The savings could thus be used to strengthen other
segments of the inspection program, such as detection of chemical
Recently, the inspection process has been made more efficient,
allowing inspectors to increase the rates of inspection. This
provides a savings in program costs, boosting the amount of
poultry that can be inspected by the same number of inspectors to
help industry meet increased demand for poultry products.
Ftow Poultry is Inspection of birds is conducted before and after slaughter.
Inspected Before slaughter, USDA inspectors examine the live poultry to
detect signs of disease. Birds which have already died are auto¬
matically condemned and not allowed to enter the slaughterhouse.
After slaughter, each carcass and the internal organs are
examined for signs of disease or conditions which would make all
or part of the carcass unfit for human food. To assure unifor¬
mity and effectiveness of the inspection process, full-time USDA
veterinarians supervise the post-mortem inspection procedures and
other duties performed by the inspectors.
Most young chickens, or fryers, are now inspected under a pro¬
cedure known as Modified Traditional Inspection, which makes use
of a mirror. Implemented in April 1979, the procedure increases
the rate at which inspectors can work. Three inspectors are
placed on each .line—an 'outside' inspector who looks at the
outside of the bird and two 'inside' inspectors who examine the
internal organs and inside of the carcass. The outside inspector
does not have to turn the birds because a mirror behind the
carcass makes all surfaces visible. And the procedures or hand
motions for inside-the-carcass inspection have been redesigned.
Fewer hand motions are now used to check the inside of the
carcass as well as the internal organs. As a result, inspection
time and money is saved, and the inspector's job is less tiring.
Under traditional inspection procedures, each inspector was
required to make a complete examination of each slaughtered bird
and all its parts. That meant extensive handling of the bird by
the inspector. The new modified traditional inspection procedure
was tested before being put into practice and found to be as
effective as the traditional system in protecting the consumer.
Since the inside inspectors still handle the bird, it takes two
of them to keep up with one outside inspector who doesn't handle
the bird. With the reduced hand motions of Modified Traditional
Inspection, a three-inspector team can examine up to 23 percent
more birds per minute than was possible by using the traditional
Another technique currently being tested is "hands-off" inspec¬
tion. Under this procedure, the inspector does not touch either
the internal organs or the carcass. This method eliminates the
hand motions used to maneuver the viscera and open the bird, and
to tilt it to examine the inside of the carcass. However, the
use of this inspection technique depends on the development of
new equipment that will mechanically open the birds so the
inspectors will have an unobstructed view. Tests have begun on
equipment that may make "hands-off" possible.
FSQS is considering other ways to lower inspection costs. One
method would use trained plant employees to remove questionable
birds from the line before they are presented to the inspector.
However, these trained plant employees would have no authority to
pass for food any of the birds they handle. They would simply
retain the questionable birds for examination by a Federal
inspector who would make the final decision and disposition. If
successfully implemented, this technique might save time by
helping gather suspect birds for the inspector. Plant employees
can take birds off a line, but this is not part of the accepted
FSQS inspection process.
Another area of study is flock testing. Since most poultry,
especially broilers, are raised in a highly controlled environ¬
ment, the condition of birds in a flock tends to be quite
uniform. It may be possible to determine the condition by exam¬
ining records and inspecting representative samples from the
flock before it is sent to the slaughterhouse. This information
would help FSQS inspectors determine the degree of inspection a
flock would be given. Flock testing would seem to be particular¬
ly appropriate in the light of dropping disease rates among
poultry. While broiler production has been increasing, the inci¬
dence of disease has fallen sharply. In 1969, inspectors con¬
demned 3 percent of the birds they examined. That figure had
fallen to slightly more than 1 percent a decade later in 1979.
Much of the poultry slaughtered in this country is used in frozen
dinners, soups, poultry frankfurters and other processed products
which are also subject to the inspection laws. Manufacturers of
poultry products must use cooking, cooling, and mixing methods
approved by FSQS. FSQS personnel must also approve the ingredi-
ients used and the label for each product. The FSQS inspector
uses these approved methods, recipes, and labels as yardsticks to
determine whether the processing is being conducted in a manner
to produce a safe and truthfully labeled product. Should the
product not meet FSQS standards, it will not be approved for
FSQS has proposed a modernization of the inspection of processed
products through a system termed "Voluntary Quality Control."
Under this system, the inspectors could use information collected
in a firm's approved quality-control system to ensure the pro¬
ducts meet FSQS safety and labeling requirements.
Another aspect of Federal inspection is the National Residue Pro¬
gram which seeks to detect chemical residues in animal tissue,
pinpoint violations, and keep violative residues out of poultry
products. Residues are produced from a number of sources—
improper use of pesticides and herbicides, improper withdrawal of
drugs and medicated feeds from birds before slaughter, and indus¬
trial accidents which result in contamination of poultry feeds or
the environment where food animals are raised. The regular
inspections before and after slaughter generally don't detect the
presence or absence of chemical and drug residues. Therefore,
Federal inspectors regularly take samples of tissue from slaugh¬
tered birds for laboratory testing. Should the residues show
above-tolerance or dangerous amounts of toxic substances, the
poultry from that source is not permitted to enter food channels
and commerce until the flock is tested again by USDA and cleared
as safe for food.
Some poultry producers operate their own residue programs, work¬
ing with FSQS to detect any violative residues and removing con¬
taminated product from food channels.
Monitoring of the wholesomeness and proper labeling of poultry
products continues even after they leave the slaughtering or
processing plant. FSQS compliance officers visit such businesses
as warehouses, transportation companies, and retail stores to
look for labeling violations and spoiled or contaminated
products. If products are not in compliance with Federal
requirements, they are removed from the marketing chain through
detention, seizure, or other appropriate actions. Products
determined to be unsafe for human consumption must be properly
disposed of by the owner.
Enforcement methods to deal with violations include criminal
prosecution, injunction, warning letter, and, in some cases,
withdrawal or suspension of inspection services. By suspending
inspection, a plant is effectively shut down until significant
changes are made in its management or operations.
If poultry or poultry products are approved by FSQS for whole¬
someness and labeling accuracy, they will receive the official
mark of inspection. Although visible on all consumer-packaged
frozen and processed products, the mark may not always appear on
fresh poultry which has been bulk shipped and then packaged at
the retail level.
The number at the bottom of the stamp identifies the establish¬
ment where the product was produced.
The Food Safety and Quality Service, U.S. Department of
Agriculture, offers its programs to all eligible persons
regardless of race, color, sex, religion, age, national origin,
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