USDA Inspection
The USDA inspection program is for wholesomeness and proper labeling of turkeys and turkey products. To pass inspection, turkeys and turkey products must be from healthy birds that were handled or processed under strict sanitary conditions; they must not be adulterated, and they must be truthfully labeled.


This is the mark used on federally inspected fresh or frozen turkeys or processed turkey products.

State inspection (which is equal to federal inspection) is required in plants that sell only within state boundaries.

Administration of mandatory federal inspection is assigned to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service. The federal government funds the agency.

USDA Grading, Contract Acceptance and Certification Services

These voluntary services are available to help assure the integrity and quality of turkey and turkey products purchased by foodservice organizations. They are performed by poultry specialists in the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and are paid for by turkey processors and others who use them. For more information, contact:

National Supervisor, Grading Branch
Poultry Division, AMS, USDA
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Room 3935-South
Washington, DC 20250
Phone: (202) 720-4411

USDA grading service. Grading involves evaluating poultry in terms of standards that describe several quality levels. There are grade standards for whole carcass poultry; parts with or without skin, bone-in or boneless; roasts and tenderloins. There are three quality levels:

  • U.S. Grade A
  • U.S. Grade B
  • U.S. Grade C

While grading is voluntary, 70 percent of all turkeys inspected for wholesomeness also are graded.

U.S. Grade A turkeys will have the following attributes:

  • Whole turkeys and bone-in turkey parts have a normal shape (conformation), are fully fleshed and meaty, are free of disjointed or broken bones and, in the case of whole turkeys, have no missing parts.
  • Turkey skin and flesh are free of blood clots, bruises and other discolorations.
  • Turkey with the skin on has maximum skin coverage and is free of pin feathers.
  • Boneless turkey products are free of bone, cartilage and tendons.
  • Frozen turkey products are free of freezing defects, such as dehydration (freezer burn) or excess moisture.

USDA contract acceptance and certification services. Poultry acceptance and certification services assure foodservice operators that the products received are indeed the products ordered. These services are provided for turkey products based on pre-bid samples or explicit product specifications, approved by USDA-AMS.

Pre-bid samples allow foodservice operators to evaluate or sample several suppliers' turkey products prior to awarding a contract. To accomplish this, the processor provides the USDA with detailed information regarding formulation, fabrication and processing. The grader supervises the production, places them under seal and issues a certificate. Subsequently, the samples are shipped to the recipient for evaluation and acceptance. The grader then supervises the production of future deliveries to assure compliance with the same processing parameters used to produce the samples.

Specifications for turkey products can be established to meet your needs. USDA poultry specialists monitor each applicable phase of production and provide certification that each delivery complies with the specification requirements. Setting product specifications offers these benefits:
  • Ensures suppliers with an accurate description of the desired product.
  • Increases competition and lowers food costs.
  • Provides for uniform products and reliable delivery.
  • Enhances quality control programs through unbiased certification.
  • Results in fewer complaints, rejections and problems at receiving locations.

Turkey products that have been determined to be in compliance with all specification requirements are identified with a Contract Compliance Stamp. The number in the center of the stamp will correspond to the number on the USDA Poultry Products Grading Certificate issued at the time of shipment. The certificate accompanies each shipment to its destination, and the certificate number and the official stamp number must match. The certificate is called a PY-210 , and every box in a shipment will be stamped with this number.


ClassYoung Turkey, Mature Turkey.
GradeU.S. Grade A, B or C.
Type/StyleFresh,chilled, frozen or individually quick frozen (IQF). Whole, cut-up, chunked and formed, diced or ground.
ProcessingFurther processed products can be prepared according to formulations using specific processing techniques and procedures and under controlled times and temperatures.
Amount Individual weight and weight range, the number of whole carcasses, or items per carton and the number of cartons per unit.
Packaging The type and size of primary and master shipping containers and how the product is to be packed in the container.
Transportation Cooler and/or freezer requirements, including condition examinations for both origin and destination locations.
Net Weight Official test weighing performed at time of each shipment.
Laboratory Analysis Chemical analysis, such as fat and salt. Microbiological analysis to determine the presence and/or levels of specific bacteria.


When specifying any type of turkey product, be as specific as possible about the nature and proportion of all ingredients. Here is a sample specification developed by the USDA.


Sample USDA Specifications for Grade A Breast/Thigh Roast
Portion of TotalPercent
Breast Meat (Minimum)47.0
Thigh Meat (Maximum)34.0
Skin (Maximum)12.5
Water (Maximum)5.0
Salt (Maximum)1.0
Sodium Phosphates (Maximum)0.5
Source: USDA announcement PY-187

Government product standards have been established to help define and describe various characteristics of turkey products.  Product labeling and promotion must conform to such standards.  Understanding these standards can be helpful when selecting products to meet food costs or nutritional requirements. For example, government standards describe the percentage of white vs. dark meat in turkey roasts and rolls.

Much more information about standards is presented in the Glossary of this manual.


Content Standards for White and Dark Meat
Label TerminologyWhite Meat (%)Dark Meat (%)
Natural Proportions50 to 6550 to 35
White or Light Meat1000
Dark Meat0100
White and Dark Meat51 to 6549 to 35
Dark and White Meat35 to 4965 to 51
Mostly White Meat66 or more34 or less
Mostly Dark Meat34 or less66 or more
Source: Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA

Sources of Supply
Processing Programs
USDA Inspection & Grading
Labeling Terms
Yield from Turkey

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