Food Safety and Inspection in the U.S. Broiler Chicken Industry
Food safety is the top priority for companies that produce and process chicken products in the United States, and the industry prides itself on delivering safe, affordable and wholesome food both domestically and abroad.
The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is the public health agency in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that is responsible for inspection at broiler chicken processing facilities (those facilities that process chickens for meat). The U.S. meat and poultry inspection system complements industry efforts to ensure that the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry and egg products is safe, wholesome and correctly labeled and packaged.
Food safety standards are applied to all chicken products produced in the United States and countries that import chicken products must also meet these federal standards. All chicken products must meet or exceed these safety standards set forth by FSIS in order to reach American consumers.
Federal inspectors are present at all times during operation in chicken processing plants. In a federally inspected slaughter operation, every bird is inspected and inspectors have the authority to halt production for food safety violations.
Since 1996, the meat and poultry industries have been operating under Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP), which is a systematic, science-based and preventive approach to food safety that addresses potential biological, chemical and physical contamination of food products. HACCP plans consist of measures to protect the food from unintentional contamination at critical control points. HACCP is used in the meat and poultry industry to identify potential food safety hazards, so that key actions can be taken to reduce or eliminate these risks.
When suitable, plants use a variety of intervention strategies at their critical control points. In chicken processing plants, some interventions might include: the use of food-grade additives that kill or reduce the growth of potential microbial hazards; approved rinses to kill any surviving bacteria; and metal detectors to make sure that no foreign object makes its way into a product.
Microbiological tests are then conducted on equipment and products at chicken plants by companies and federal laboratories, including tests for pathogens like Salmonella, Campylobacter and Listeria monocytogenes. These tests are another tool in the food safety toolbox and are an additional measure used to ensure that food safety systems like HACCP are working properly.
In chicken slaughter establishments in the United States, on-line carcass inspection of chickens is done using a visual (organoleptic) method where FSIS inspectors inspect the viscera (inside of the bird) and carcass.
Currently, the two most prevalent inspection systems are the Streamlined Inspection System (SIS) and the New Line Speed (NELS) Inspection System.
In the SIS system, lines move at 70 birds/minute with two inspectors on each line. In the NELS system, lines move at 91 birds/minute requiring three inspectors on each line.
To evaluate a model system of inspection, operating under HACCP principles, a third inspection system known as HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) was initiated in 1998 to evaluate the ability of the HIMP model to improve the safety of processed animals and poultry. Under this system, the inspector has three activities including carcass inspection, verification inspection and systems inspection.
In plants operating under HIMP, plant employees remove carcasses with contamination and/or defects from the inspection line for disposal or reworking. Federal inspectors do not evaluate the carcasses in the middle of the processing line as they do in traditional inspection, although a federal inspector is stationed at the end of the line, just before the chiller, to provide a final inspection on every bird and provide oversight of the entire process.
These food safety and inspection systems, coupled with the industry’s commitment to producing the safest food possible, means that consumers can feel confident that the U.S. chicken supply is among the safest in the world.