|Inspection for Food
Safety: The Basics
THE FOOD SAFETY AND
- USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)
is responsible for ensuring the safety,
wholesomeness, and accurate labeling of meat,
poultry, and processed egg products.
- FSIS enforces the Federal Meat Inspection Act
(FMIA), the Poultry Products Inspection Act, and
the Egg Products Inspection Act, which require
Federal inspection and regulation of meat,
poultry, and processed egg products prepared for
distribution in commerce for use as human food.
FSIS also verifies and enforces industry
compliance with the Humane Methods of Slaughter
Act, which requires that all livestock inspected
under the FMIA are humanely handled.
FSIS employs 8,000 in-plant and other
frontline personnel who protect public health in
6,200 federally inspected slaughter and
processing establishments, in laboratories, and
in commerce nationwide.
- Industry is accountable for producing safe food.
- FSIS is responsible for conducting inspections of each animal carcass,
setting appropriate food safety standards,
verifying those safety standards through
inspection, and maintaining a strong enforcement
program when plants do not meet these standards.
- Slaughter facilities cannot conduct
slaughter operations if FSIS inspection
personnel are not present and inspecting each
- Only federally inspected and passed products
can enter interstate commerce or be exported to
- To receive Federal inspection, an
establishment must receive an official Grant of
Inspection. To obtain this, an establishment
must have Sanitation Standard Operating
Procedures, conduct a hazard analysis, develop
and validate a Hazard Analysis and Critical
Control Point (HACCP) plan, and agree to abide
by all FSIS regulations.
- FSIS conducts carcass-by-carcass inspection
at all federally inspected meat and poultry
slaughter facilities and verifies that these
establishments follow all food safety and humane
- FSIS inspection program personnel verify
that the establishment maintains proper
sanitation procedures, and also that the
establishment follows its HACCP plan and
complies with all FSIS regulations pertaining to
slaughter and processing operations.
- If the establishment fails to maintain
sanitation, does not follow its HACCP plan, or
violates other regulations, FSIS inspection
program personnel issue a citation to the
establishment documented as a “noncompliance
record.” If necessary, inspectors can take
regulatory control actions including suspending
- Cattle slaughter and processing
establishments must maintain written procedures
for removing, segregating, and disposing of
specified risk materials (SRMs) in order to
prevent their entry into the food supply.
- SRMs are tissues deemed to be a high-risk
because they could potentially carry the
material associated with bovine spongiform
encephalopathy (also known as BSE or “mad cow
- SRMs include the brain, skull, eyes,
trigeminal ganglia, spinal cord, vertebral
column, and dorsal root ganglia of cattle 30
months of age and older; and the tonsils and
distal ileum of all cattle.
Arrival of live animals
Review of the carcass and examination of
- FSIS inspection at a slaughter establishment begins before slaughter, when live animals arrive
at the establishment. FSIS personnel have the authority to inspect trucks offloading animals, and
the pens or other areas in which they are kept prior to slaughter.
- Livestock slaughter establishments are
required to comply with the Humane Methods of
Slaughter Act, which requires that cattle,
calves, horses, mules, sheep, goats, swine, and
other livestock be humanely handled and
- All incidents of inhumane handling trigger
enforcement actions. A non-egregious
noncompliance for humane handling – such as not
having water available for the animals in their
pens – would trigger a noncompliance record or
other regulatory enforcement action.
- Egregious violations of humane handling
requirements lead to more severe enforcement
actions, such as suspension or withdrawal of
FSIS inspection, which prevents a plant from
- During antemortem inspection, animals are
viewed at rest and in motion for abnormalities
as well as indications of disease or health
conditions that would prohibit the animal from
entering the food supply, or require additional
- If cattle become non-ambulatory disabled at
any time prior to slaughter, they must be
condemned, promptly and humanely euthanized, and
disposed of. FSIS prohibits non-ambulatory
disabled cattle from use in human food because
non-ambulatory behavior in cattle is a possible
symptom of BSE. Regulations strictly prohibit
the dragging of a conscious animal that is
unable to walk.
- FSIS is strictly enforcing safeguards
designed to protect consumers from variant
Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which has been linked
to the consumption of beef products contaminated
- FSIS inspectors stationed at fixed positions
along the slaughter line are known as “on-line”
inspectors who look for signs of disease or
pathological conditions that would render a
carcass or even a portion of the carcass
unwholesome or unfit for human consumption.
- Any carcass in need of further diagnosis or
disposition is segregated for examination and
final disposition by the FSIS veterinarian.
- The establishment must maintain the identity
of every carcass and ensure that the segregated
carcasses do not enter the food supply unless
passed without restriction by FSIS.
- Only if FSIS inspectors determine a carcass
is without general signs of disease or
pathological condition, it can be passed without
restriction and enter the food supply. Partial
and limited conditions in the carcass must be
removed, or the carcass is not permitted into
the food supply.
Last Modified: April 24,