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« s 


V FS QS Facts 

United States 
Department of 
Agriculture 




Food Safety 
and Quality 
Service 


y 

Poultry Inspection 


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 
processing plants. 

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 
residues. 

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 







FSQS Facts 


Poultry Inspection 


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 
inspection system. 

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. 


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FSQS Facts 


Foultry Inspection 


Processed Poultry 

Products 


National Residue 

Program 


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 
marketing. 

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. 


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FSQS Facts 


Poultry Inspection 


Enforcement 


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, 
or handicap. 


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