Slaughter Inspection 101
About the Food Safety and Inspection Service
- USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for ensuring the safety and wholesomeness of meat, poultry, and processed egg products and ensures that it is accurately labeled.
- FSIS enforces the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA), and the Egg Products Inspection Act. These laws require Federal inspection and regulation of meat, poultry, and processed egg products prepared for distribution in commerce for use as human food. It also verifies compliance with the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act for livestock. This statute is enforced through the FMIA.
- FSIS employs about 7,800 in plant inspection program personnel. They inspect more than 6,200 federally inspected establishments. These establishments vary greatly in size and type of activity conducted.
- Industry is accountable for producing safe food.
- Government is responsible for:
- Conducting carcass by carcass inspection,
- Setting appropriate food safety standards,
- Verifying through inspection that those standards are met, and
- Maintaining a strong enforcement program to deal with plants that do not meet regulatory standards.
- Slaughter facilities cannot conduct slaughter operations if FSIS inspection personnel are not present.
- Only federally inspected establishments can produce products that are destined to enter interstate commerce or for export to foreign countries.
- To receive Federal inspection, an establishment must apply for and receive an official Grant of Inspection. To obtain this, an establishment must:
- Have written 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 slaughter facilities and verifies that establishments follow all food safety and humane handling regulations.
- FSIS inspection program personnel verify that the establishment maintains proper sanitation procedures; it 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 will issue a citation to the establishment in the form of a noncompliance record to document the noncompliance. If necessary, they could also take regulatory control action.
- Livestock slaughter and processing establishments must maintain written procedures for removing, segregating and disposing of specified risk materials (SRMs) so they do not enter the food supply.
- SRMs are high-risk tissues that pose the greatest risk of containing the agent associated with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (also known as BSE or "mad cow disease").
- Some examples of SRMs are the brain, skull, eyes, trigeminal ganglia, spinal cord, vertebral column, and dorsal root ganglia of cattle 30 months of age and older; the tonsils of all cattle; and the distal ileum of all cattle.
Ante Mortem or before slaughter
- Establishments are required to notify FSIS inspection program personnel when they want animals inspected prior to slaughter.
- Inspection at a slaughter establishment begins in the ante mortem area or pen where FSIS inspection program personnel inspect live animals before moving to slaughter.
- It is the establishment's responsibility to follow the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Egregious violations to humane handling requirements can lead to suspension of inspection activity within an establishment. This will stop the plant from operating.
- Noncompliance records for humane handling also can be issued when the violation is less than egregious, such as not having water available in pens.
- During this inspection, FSIS inspection program personnel observe all animals at rest and in motion.
- Inspection program personnel are trained to look for abnormalities and signs that could indicate disease or health conditions that would prohibit the animal from entering the food supply.
- If an animal goes down or shows signs of illness after receiving and passing ante mortem inspection before slaughter, the establishment must immediately notify the FSIS veterinarian to make a case-by-case disposition of the animal's condition. Alternatively, the establishment may humanely euthanize the animal.
- These animals are labeled as "U.S. Suspect" and are segregated until the animal has received additional inspection by an FSIS veterinarian.
- FSIS veterinarians and other inspection personnel are not stationed in the ante mortem area for the entire day. They do return randomly to verify humane handling, as well as the stunning and bleeding process.
- Other inspection activities are also conducted off-line inside the slaughter facility when ante mortem inspections have been completed. These off-line FSIS inspection program personnel move through the different areas of the establishment while performing their duties. This gives them the ability to vary their assigned off line inspections.
Post Mortem or after slaughter
- Post mortem inspection occurs in the slaughter area after the animal has been humanely stunned and bled.
- FSIS inspection program personnel perform carcass-by-carcass post mortem inspections. Agency inspection personnel are stationed at fixed positions along the slaughter line, and are known as on-line inspectors.
- Inspectors look for signs of disease or pathological conditions that would render a carcass or part unwholesome or otherwise unfit for human consumption.
- Any carcass in need of further diagnosis or disposition is segregated and the veterinarian summoned.
- The establishment must maintain the identity of every carcass and ensure that the retained carcasses do not enter the food supply until it is released by FSIS inspection program personnel.
- After further inspection, if a carcass has no generalized signs of disease or pathological conditions, it is passed without restriction and may enter the food supply. Localized conditions are removed prior to the carcass entering the food supply.
- Off-line FSIS inspection program personnel also observe the sanitary conditions of those parts of the slaughter area not directly related to carcass inspection, such as where the hides are removed.
Featured Factsheets & Resources
Last Updated: Aug 09, 2013