Inspection for Food Safety: The Basics | USDA Newsroom
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News Release

Release No. 0055.08
FSIS Press Office (202) 720-9113

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  • 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 accurate labeling.
  • FSIS enforces the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act 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. FSIS also verifies compliance with the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act for livestock. This statute is enforced through the Federal Meat Inspection Act.
  • 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 inspections on 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.
  • 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 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 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, 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 will issue a citation to the establishment documented as a "noncompliance record." If necessary, inspectors can also take regulatory control actions.
  • Livestock slaughter and processing establishments must maintain written procedures for removing, segregating and disposing of specified risk materials (SRMs) to prevent their entry into the food supply.
  • SRMs are high-risk tissues that could carry the material 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.


Arrival of live animals

  • Establishments are required to notify FSIS for the inspection of animals prior to slaughter.
  • Inspection at a slaughter establishment begins in an area or pen where FSIS inspection program personnel review live animals that arrive before slaughter.
  • An establishment has the responsibility to follow the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Egregious violations of humane handling requirements would lead to suspension of FSIS inspection activity, and prevent the plant from operating.
  • Less egregious noncompliance for humane handling - such as not having water available for the animals in their pens - are also violations which are recorded.
  • During animal inspection, all 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.
  • The law requires that if an animal goes down or shows signs of illness after receiving and passing inspection before slaughter, the establishment must immediately notify the FSIS veterinarian to make a case-by-case disposition of the animal's condition. Or, the establishment may humanely euthanize the animal.
  • The FSIS veterinarian may determine the animals are to be labeled "U.S. Suspect" and keep them segregated for additional examination by an FSIS veterinarian.
  • FSIS veterinarians and other inspection personnel review the day's supply of animals brought to slaughter, and then randomly return to the holding area to verify humane handling, as well as during the slaughter process where the animals are stunned and then bled.
  • FSIS inspectors are not confined to the slaughter line and may also work "off-line" around many areas throughout the facility once they have completed live animal inspections.

Review of the carcass and examination of the meat

  • 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 as unwholesome or unfit for human consumption.
  • Any carcass in need of further diagnosis or disposition is segregated and the veterinarian is summoned.
  • 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 inspectors.
  • Only if FSIS inspectors determine a carcass is without general signs of disease or pathological condition, it can be passed without restriction and may enter the food supply. Partial and limited conditions in the carcass must be removed, or the carcass is not permitted into the food supply.
  • "Off-line" FSIS inspectors also review sanitary conditions in other areas of the facility - such as where hides are removed - even though some functions are not directly related to carcass inspection.