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Market & USDA Inspection Process for Egg & Meat Products

Instructor: Allison Moore

Allie teaches college business and culinary management courses. She has a master's degree in business administration.

This lesson explains the role of USDA food safety inspectors and summarizes the market and quality standards for meat, poultry, and egg products. The inspection and grading processes are also discussed.

Meat and Egg Products: Safety and Quality

Take a minute and think about the meat and egg products that you purchase from the grocery store. You have probably seen everything from whole turkeys to ground beef. The variety is abundant - beef and pork roasts, steaks and chops, boneless chicken breasts, beef short ribs, and so on. Fresh shell eggs and other egg products are also readily available in most markets.

Before these products are approved for sale in markets around the United States, they must first undergo and pass a rigorous inspection process to ensure they are wholesome and fit for consumption. Most products also go through a grading process to determine their overall quality and appearance. The specific grades vary among different products, but the outcome is the same in that the grades provide consistency in quality and determine how the products are processed and utilized.

The USDA and the FDA

Two government agencies are responsible for ensuring a safe food supply for you in the United States - the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

All products inspected by the USDA are the responsibility of the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS). The FSIS oversees all meat and poultry products that are commercially produced in the United States. The FDA is responsible for overseeing the production and processing of all other food products that are not commercially processed meat and poultry products.

The inspection and processing of shell eggs and other egg products is a cooperative effort between the FDA, the FSIS, and other government agencies.

On-line poultry inspector
On-line poultry inspector

USDA Inspection and Grading

All meat, poultry, and egg products that will enter the U.S. food supply must be inspected. Most of these products will also be graded before they are further processed for distribution through the supply chain.

Inspection is a mandatory process where animals are inspected for wholesomeness both before and after slaughter. This is to ensure the animal is free from any diseases or impurities which would make it unhealthy for you to eat. Grading is a voluntary process where the product receives quality and yield grades that measure appearance, eating quality, and overall yield (the percentage of the product that can be used for food).

A USDA inspector examines swine carcasses.
A USDA inspector examines swine carcasses

The Inspection and Grading Process

Official inspectors work in both meat and poultry slaughterhouses as well as the packaging plants. The process begins with a pre-inspection of the animals before they go to the slaughterhouse. The inspector will observe the animal, looking for any signs of disease or abnormal behavior that would indicate the animal may not be safe to consume as food. After slaughter, the animal carcasses are inspected again for any signs of illness or unhealthiness.

If the carcass is approved by inspectors, it receives an official inspection stamp indicating that it has passed inspection. If the product is graded, it also receives a grade stamp and is then sent to the processing facility to be fabricated and packaged for its intended use.

Beef carcasses in a processing facility
Beef carcasses in a processing facility

Market Standards

Market standards vary among different animal products when it comes to slaughter age, weight, size, and overall animal health. Quality standards also vary slightly depending on the product, but in general, the inspectors are looking for the same things in all meat and egg products. First and foremost is wholesomeness, followed by various measures of quality based on appearance, age, weight, fat percentage, etc.

USDA Grade Stamps
USDA Grade Stamps

The following tables summarize the market standards and quality grades for the most commonly consumed meat and poultry products.

BEEF, PORK, & LAMB

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