Inspection for Ritual Meat and Poultry Slaughter
By Felicia Thompson
The editors of Food for Thought are exploring inspection procedures. This week we focus on ritual slaughter and processing of the end products. Read the previous article, Modernizing Egg Inspection.
Practicing one’s religion can go beyond having certain beliefs or taking part in certain rites or forms of worship. The Jewish and Muslim faiths each have long traditions with set procedures on how food animals are slaughtered and how meat or poultry products are prepared.
Livestock Slaughter Inspection
Inspection Program Personnel (IPP) follow the instructions from FSIS Directive 6900.2, Rev. 3, Humane Handling and Slaughter of Livestock, which provides directions on how to conduct related inspection verification activities. Livestock includes cattle, hogs, sheep, lamb and goats, among other animals. District personnel follow this directive in taking enforcement actions to ensure that livestock slaughter establishments follow the provisions of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) and relevant regulations. The HMSA and FSIS regulations require that livestock must be rendered insensitive to pain before the slaughter process begins; however, the Act and regulations allow for exemption from this requirement for religious reasons. Under this exemption, religious rituals may be followed if livestock presented for slaughter are alive, are ambulatory and have continuous access to water before slaughter.
CSI Gregory Hange performs post-mortem inspection at a halal slaughter and processing establishment in Richlandtown, Pennsylvania. Photo by Dr. Alethea Evans, OFO.
IPP verify that livestock are treated humanely, including during ritual slaughter. They are the frontline team charged with ensuring all slaughter and processing methods receive the same level of vigorous inspection in all establishments, whether operating under a religious authority or not. Establishments operating under a religious authority, like all other establishments, must obtain grants of inspection before their businesses start. They must also follow their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point plans and sanitation standard operating procedures when the establishment is operational.
Consumer Safety Inspector (CSI) Greg Hange, who shares a rotation assignment in the Philadelphia District, worked in slaughter and processing establishments before joining FSIS. He said, “Over the years, I have worked in halal plants as an industry employee and for the last 25 years in FSIS, and two things have been consistent — there have been no past enforcement actions at these plants, to my knowledge, and the animals are treated very well. For example, if it’s hot outside, the animals are kept cool.” However, Hange knows that problems can occur at any establishment, so he and his colleagues remain watchful for violations.
Poultry Slaughter Inspection
Poultry slaughter is not covered under the HMSA, but FSIS regulations require establishments to slaughter poultry according to Good Commercial Practices (GCP) set by industry. All poultry slaughter establishments, including those conducting ritual slaughter, are required to follow GCP. FSIS Directive 6110.1, Verification of Poultry Good Commercial Practices, provides instructions to IPP on how to conduct related inspection verification activities. If IPP observe the mistreatment of live poultry before slaughter, or violations of regulations concerning slaughter itself, they are empowered to take steps to document and correct those issues, as well as to prevent future occurrences.
CSI Taryn Daly, a five-year FSIS employee assigned to a slaughter kosher plant in Mifflintown, Pennsylvania, said, “Kosher slaughter is different from typical poultry slaughter in that the birds are first blessed, then they receive a ritual cut and next die by rapid loss of blood. After the ritual portion is performed, I verify GCP with the staging of the birds and affirm they are fully unconscious before they enter the picking machine to remove their feathers.” (Note: Picking machines are not used in all poultry facilities.) “Following this step, kosher processing calls for salt to cover the outside of the raw poultry before being rinsed and further processed.”
Following slaughter of livestock or poultry, IPP verify packaging labels are accurate in accordance with the Poultry Products Inspection Act, the Federal Meat Inspection Act, and their implementing regulations before products are shipped to stores. There are various voluntary symbols indicating livestock and poultry were slaughtered under religious requirements.
Regardless of type of product or inspection, IPP are key to ensuring industry compliance with laws and regulations and to ensuring that food is safe and accurately labeled.
CSI Taryn Daly performs a finished product standards task at the pre-chill check station at a kosher poultry plant in the Philadelphia District. Photo by Cathy Weaver, OFO.