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Turkey Inspection and Grading

Inspection USDA Inspection seals

Turkey inspection is an evolving service. Prior to World War II most turkeys were sold live or "New York Dressed" (with the head, feet and entrails intact but with feathers and blood removed). Consumers were able to perform their own turkey inspection through sight, smell, and touch.

Shortly after WW II poultry was processed to a ready to cook state, fully eviscerated with the head and feet removed. Soon frozen poultry became the norm and consumer inspection became impossible.

Mandatory poultry inspection began in 1957 at the processing plants. The process used the same sight, smell, and touch technique that consumers had used. Each turkey carcass awarded the USDA seal of approval was individually inspected by a USDA inspector with the liver and spleen palpated to check for abnormalities.

In 1978 the system was streamlined with three inspector working each line each inspecting 30 birds per minute. In 1994 the FSIS the Food Service Inspection Service of the USDA began incorporating scientific testing to identify and reduce pathogens. That is also the year that the Safe Handling Label started being used.

safe handling instruction seal

In April 2007 a new system of inspection went into effect starting with 30 plants. It is expected to expand to 150 plants by the end of 2007. This system, known as "Risk Based Inspection" is an attempt to better utilize the U.S. governments meat and poultry resources. Inspections will concentrate on processing plants and areas with increased chance of risk.

This new procedure is being hotly debated, and it is too new to know the consequences of the change. Check back, we will keep you posted.

Grade A, Grade B, Grade C USDA Poultry Grade A seal

Grading is voluntary and is paid for by the poultry producer or processor. For this reason if you see a grading mark it will almost always be Grade A. For bone-in products grading looks for normal shape and no broken or disjointed bones. If there is skin, it must be free of feathers or discoloration. Boneless products should be free of bones, tendons, cartilage and bruises.

The link below has more information than you ever wanted about grading.

USDA Poultry Grading Manual

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