Postmortem inspection covers the inspection of the carcasses and parts of poultry used for human food. It takes place after antemortem inspection and after the poultry has been slaughtered, thus the term “Postmortem,” meaning “after death” in Latin. Postmortem inspection covers the steps in the slaughter process that begin at stunning and ends at the step where the poultry is packaged and is ready to be transported from the establishment.
The purpose of postmortem inspection is to protect the public health by ensuring that the carcasses and parts that enter commerce are wholesome, not adulterated and properly marked, labelled, and packaged. This means that any carcasses or parts that are unwholesome or adulterated and thereby unfit for human food do not enter commerce.
Sanitary dressing is defined as “the practice of handling carcasses and parts by establishment employees and machinery, throughout the slaughter process, in a manner that produces a clean, safe, wholesome poultry product in a sanitary environment. The offline personnel will verify the poultry slaughter establishment is performing sanitary dressing procedures in a manner that will prevent the creation of insanitary condition and adulteration of product.
The establishment must ensure that the carcasses are presented for inspection in a specified manner The proper presentation of carcasses for postmortem inspection involves uniform and consistent feather removal, feet removal, opening of carcasses, evisceration, and shackling.
Feathers: The presence of feathers on carcasses at postmortem inspection is not significant. A carcass that has been scalded and passed through a picking machine will have sufficient feather removal for postmortem inspection. Inspectors should not direct carcasses to be hung back or the line speed to be reduced because of feathers. Pre-chill testing conducted by off-line inspectors will take into account and score feathers as a defect accordingly on the sheet. If test scores exceed the allowable numbers, then re-tests will be performed and product may be retained and reworked.
Feet removal: Generally, the feet are removed at the hock joints. Washing the cut surface of hocks is not allowed until postmortem inspection is complete. Otherwise, pathological exudate could be removed or obscured and prevent Poultry Postmortem Inspection detection of synovitis.
Opening Cut: Plant management must minimize contaminating the opening cut of the carcass.
Evisceration and Shackling: Sanitation and consistency are important for a properly drawn carcass. Traditionally, viscera must be completely withdrawn, left suspended by natural attachments, and arranged consistently on the left or right side.
The establishment is responsible for providing appropriate inspection stations that meet regulatory requirements. The requirements may vary depending on the size of the plant and volume of operations. For example, in large poultry slaughter establishments, there may be separate inspection stations for carcasses and for carcasses that are salvaged and reprocessed. However, if you are assigned to a very small plant, inspection for all of the regulatory requirements may take place in one location.
The requirements also vary with the type of inspection system being used by the establishment. There are six inspection systems recognized of the regulations and they are as follows:
- Streamlined Inspection System (SIS)
- New Line Speed Inspection System (NELS)
- New Poultry Slaughter Inspection System (NPIS)
- New Turkey Inspection System (NTI)
Establishment management must provide the following facilities at the postmortem inspection station
The amount of space required for the inspector and helper varies, depending upon the inspection method. Regulations require a minimum of 4’ x 2’ for each.
Lighting requirements also vary between inspection methods. Regulatory minimum lighting requirements at the postmortem station are:
Traditional Inspection : 50 foot-candles
Streamlined Inspection System (SIS) :200 foot-candles
New Line Speed Inspection System (NELS) :200 foot-candles
New Poultry Slaughter Inspection System (NPIS): 200 foot-candles
New Turkey Inspection System (NTIS) : 200 foot-candles
Other factors as important as the quantity of foot candles are the quality and direction of light. Light should not cause color changes on the inspected carcasses and should be shadow-free. Light with a minimum color-rendering index of 85 is mandatory with SIS, NTIS, NPIS, and NELS.
Water for hand washing with both hot and cold running water available, delivered through a suitable mixing device controlled by the inspector, or, alternatively, water at a minimum temperature of 65° F., must be available at the postmortem inspection station.
Generally there are two types of condemned containers at the postmortem inspection station. One type is for parts and one is for the whole carcass. These containers must meet the sanitation requirements.
The primary purpose of the hang back rack is to retain questionable carcasses for veterinary review and disposition. It is very important that you use your hang back racks to retain cadaver birds for the PHV. The racks can also be used for carcasses designated as salvage, improper presentation, etc.
A start/stop switch within easy reach of each inspector is required.
General Methods of Postmortem Inspection
The general methods you will use to conduct on line poultry slaughter inspection to detect diseases, abnormalities, and contamination will involve your senses. (organoleptic inspection) These senses include:
Sight – observing a disease lesion (inflammatory process, airsacculitis or tumor).
Feel – palpating (feeling an abnormal lump in tissues, feeling abnormal firmness in an organ).
Smell – smelling a decomposed carcass
Diseases and Conditions of Public Health Significance
Septicemia is a disease state caused by pathogenic (disease producing) microorganisms in the blood that have produced systemic change within the bird. Systemic change affects the body as a whole rather than a localized portion of it.In septicemia the normal functions of the bird’s organ systems are disrupted. The cells of the body deteriorate. This deterioration may be very rapid when highly virulent microorganisms are the cause, or it may be more gradual if less virulent ones are involved.In some cases, the changes produced by septicemia overwhelm the bird and result in death. In other cases, the bird’s immune system overcomes the causative organism before irreversible damage occurs and it subsequently recovers.
In slaughter establishments, fecal contamination of carcasses is the primary avenue for contamination by pathogens. Pathogens may reside in fecal material, both in the gastrointestinal tract and on the exterior surfaces of the bird going to slaughter. Without care being taken in handling and sanitary dressing procedures during slaughter and processing, the edible portions of the carcass can become contaminated with bacteria capable of causing illness in humans. Once introduced into the establishment environment, the organisms may be spread from carcass to carcass or by other means. Therefore, FSIS enforces a “zero tolerance” standard for visible fecal material on poultry carcasses entering the chiller.
Carcasses that are contaminated with fecal material may be reconditioned by either trimming or a combination of trimming and washing offline. The establishment may also have on line reprocessing using an antimicrobial intervention. If a carcass is so contaminated it cannot be inspected or if it is contaminated to the extent that it cannot be made wholesome the carcass would be condemned.
Diseases and Conditions Not of Public Health Significance
Avian tuberculosis (TB) is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium avium and usually is a chronic, slowly developing disease. This disease has largely been eradicated in domestic poultry in the U.S. but is still found occasionally in mature birds. Birds with TB develop a wasting condition characterized by loss of weight and diarrhea. At postmortem examination their carcasses are typically emaciated. Gray to yellow, firm nodules (tubercles) are often scattered along the intestines and may be found in various organs, especially the liver and spleen. Lungs generally have no gross lesions although, in advanced cases, any organ or tissue can be involved.
Avian tuberculosis can infect humans but is not considered to be a serious threat to people with healthy immune systems. One definitive lesion is all that is required to condemn a poultry carcass for tuberculosis.
This category includes several neoplastic diseases caused by various viruses. All produce tumors in domestic poultry and present similar gross lesions. The age and species of bird affected by leukotic tumors suggests which viral agent is involved. The most common manifestations of the leukosis complex are:
- Marek’s disease, which is an important disease only in young chickens less than six months of age
- Lymphoid leukosis, which is most common in semi-mature and mature chickens
- Reticuloendotheliosis, which occasionally produces liver and spleen tumors in turkeys and, rarely, runting disease in chickens
- Lymphoproliferative disease, which affects turkeys, producing a greatly enlarged spleen as well as tumors in other organs.
Any organ or other part of a carcass which is affected by an inflammatory process shall be condemned and if there is evidence of general systemic disturbance, the whole carcass shall be condemned.
Synovitis is caused by a number of organisms, most often members of the genus Mycoplasma. Injury and nutritional deficiencies also lead to synovitis. The result is acute or chronic inflammation of the membranes lining one or more joints and tendon sheaths.
Joints are often noticeably swollen and might contain varying amounts of exudate. The liver, kidneys, and spleen may be swollen. In addition, the liver is sometimes stained green from bile stasis because the bird was too painful to move, and therefore did not eat. Lesions vary depending upon whether or not the condition is confined to the joints or has overwhelmed the bird’s defense mechanisms and caused systemic changes.
Systemic sep/tox changes.
Inflammatory Process (IP) is an inflammation in or under the skin caused by bacteria. This inflammation causes an immune response by the bird. IP can occur anywhere on the bird but is most often seen around the vent, abdominal flaps or side of the bird. IP appears as bright yellow cheesy material under the skin. On the skin, areas indicating the presence of IP will have a yellow color and sometimes, in severe cases, have a burnt waffle appearance. These localized changes in skin color are an indication of infection. Due to the insidious nature of IP and its ability to spread under the skin, carcasses showing these localized signs should be further examined on or off line to assure the unsafe and unfit portions are removed. A carcass with inflammatory process is not condemned unless it also shows systemic or sep/tox changes.
This category refers to tumors other than those of the leukosis complex. Some of the more common tumors include keratoacanthomas, adenocarcinomas, melanomas, hemangiomas and fibromas.
- Keratoacanthomas, previously known as squamous cell carcinomas are skin tumors that arise from the feather follicle epithelium found in young chickens. These tumors are multicentric in nature, which means they can arise in different areas on the bird but are still considered to be benign. Adenocarcinomas generally are located on abdominal organs and are common in older birds.
- Melanomas are composed of melanin (black) pigmented cells. Hemangiomas are benign tumors made of newly formed blood vessels
- Fibromas may develop in any connective tissue. They are more common in older birds.
- Teratomas are composed of different types of tissue none of it native to the area it occurs.
If bruises cause systemic change in a carcass, or if there is no part of the carcass that can be salvaged, the carcass is condemned and recorded under this category. Otherwise, if any part can be salvaged from the carcass, the bruises are trimmed and the remainder of the carcass is passed. If you encounter increased numbers or clusters of severely bruised carcasses at the inspection station, notify the PHV as this may be an indication the establishment is not following good commercial practices.
Poultry that die from causes other than slaughter are condemned under the cadaver category. These birds are not physiologically dead and are still breathing when they enter the scald vat. Carcasses of poultry that die from drowning may exhibit signs of incomplete exsanguination (bleed-out), resulting in an Poultry Postmortem Inspection unwholesome carcass. When submerged in the hot water, they drown, and the physiological reaction to the heat is for the blood vessels to expand or dilate causing the remaining blood to flow to the surface of the skin in an attempt to cool the bird. This is what causes the skin of the carcass or neck to become cherry red to purple.
Carcasses that are cooked are condemned. The muscle must be cooked through the level of the deep pectoral muscle in order to be classified as an overscald. Simply having a superficial cooked appearance does not make a carcass overscalded. It is important for inspection program personnel to differentiate an overscald carcass from a hardscald carcass. Cooking of the most superficial surface of the superficial pectoral (breast) muscle occurs in a hardscald carcass. This produces a whitening of that surface.
Many times overscalded carcasses will also be mutilated by picking machines. However, carcasses that are not cooked to the level of the deep pectoral muscle may also be mutilated by the picking machines. These carcasses should not be condemned for overscald, but should either be salvaged or condemned for contamination, depending upon the extent of the damage. If a carcass is to be condemned for overscald, the deep pectoral muscle must have a cooked appearance.
To better understand airsacculitis, which is inflammation of the air sacs, you should understand what air sacs are and where they are in the live bird. There are nine air sacs in the chicken: unpaired clavicular and paired cervical, cranial thoracic, caudal thoracic and abdominal air sacs. The cervical and interclavicular
air sacs connect to bone and the anterior deep pectoral muscle. Air sacs are normally thin clear membrane pouches. The air sacs occupy all space in the thoraco-abdominal cavity not occupied by other organs. The air sacs are disrupted during evisceration
Abnormal Physiologic States– Ascites
Ascites is an abnormal physiological condition in which fluid accumulates in the body cavities. It occurs in young, rapidly growing chickens due to genetic and nutritional improvements.
The rapid growth of the birds leads to an increase in the oxygen demands of the chicken. When the birds are under stress, this can lead to right sided heart failure and the subsequent accumulation of fluid around the heart. The right sided heart failure may force the fluid into the abdominal cavity.
- If the carcass shows evidence of ascites and is characterized by the presence of septicemia and/or toxaemia or any other disease condition, the carcass must be condemned under the septicemia/toxaemia category.
- If the amount of fluid in the body cavity is such that it interferes with proper inspection the carcass must be condemned under the “other” category on the lot sheet.
- If there is no evidence of any other disease condition and the fluid does not interfere with inspection, the carcass may be passed after removal of the fluid.
No Viscera – Carcasses condemned because there are no viscera to inspect. Carcasses are classified as no viscera if none of the three major organs heart, liver, and spleen – are present for inspection. Disposition of no-viscera carcasses are determined by the veterinarian in charge and are based upon flock incidence of disease. Carcasses should be hung back and the veterinarian in charge notified.
Plant rejects – When the establishment rejects a carcass before inspection, condemn as plant reject on the lot tally sheet. Carcasses rejected by the establishment at salvage should also be recorded as a plant reject on the lot tally sheet.
When conditions are localized, the appropriate inspection decision may be to condemn the carcass part. If there is an unwholesome portion or part that can be effectively removed, the remainder of the carcass is considered wholesome. Some organs or parts that may be condemned because of localized conditions without condemning the whole carcass are:
Condemn livers with: fatty
- extensive petechiae or hemorrhages
- inflammation or necrosis cysts or cirrhosis
- discoloration due to a biliary system disorder or postmortem changes
- contamination from intestinal content or noxious materials
Condemn kidneys when:
- the carcass has renal or splenic pathology, or hepatic lesions that cause liver condemnation
- there are pathological conditions requiring condemnation of all viscera
- there is airsacculitis (vacuum the kidneys from carcass or salvaged posterior portion)
A fracture with no associated hemorrhage is passed. A fracture with hemorrhage in the affected part is trimmed and the remainder of the carcass is passed. A compound fracture, one in which the bone goes through skin, is trimmed whether or not there is hemorrhage present.
Luxation is a simple disjointment without breaking the skin and without hemorrhage. It does not have to be trimmed. If hemorrhage does not extend into the musculature, trim or slit/wash out the hemorrhage. Do not trim simple redness of skin.
Contamination other than Fecal
- Carcasses contaminated by volatile oils, paints, poisons, gases, scald vat water in air sacs shall be condemned. Carcasses mutilated shall be condemned if whole carcass is affected.
- Carcasses contaminated with digestive contents shall not be condemned if properlyand promptly reprocessed using an approved method and parameters of use. The establishment must incorporate procedures for online reprocessing or offline reprocessing into its Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan or Sanitation standard operating procedures (Sanitation SOP) or other prerequisite Program
Condemned and Inedible Product
- Condemned product is product that has been determined through inspection to be diseased or condition that renders it unfit for human consumption. It is prohibited from entering commerce for use as human.
- Inedible product is any product that is adulterated, uninspected, or not intended for use as human food. The term inedible refers to product that by its nature is not handled as human food. Examples include bones, intestines, lungs, reproductive organs, feet, etc. If inedible product is diseased or has the appearance of edible product, it must be handled as condemned.
- Both condemned and inedible products are not fit for human consumption. Due to the edible appearance of condemned product, its control is most crucial and the requirements found in the regulations are very specific. Edible product may have a similar appearance to condemned product and some inedible product.
- Inspectors must maintain control over condemned products. There are three ways to do this:
- sight – under direct supervision of inspection personnel
- lock or seal – place a government lock or seal on the container
- Condemned and inedible poultry products may be disposed of by one of the following.
- Incineration (burning)
- Chemical denaturing
- Dye denaturing
Only burying and burning may be used for products condemned for biological residues.