August 28, 1957 – Congress Passes the Poultry Products Inspection Act

Poultry processing in the 1950s at the Piedmont Dressing Plant in Concord, North Carolina. Photo Source: NCSU Library Digital Collection

Poultry processing in the 1950s at the Piedmont Dressing Plant in Concord, North Carolina. Photo Source: NCSU Library Digital Collection

On August 28, 1957, the United States Congress passed the Poultry Products Inspection Act. This comprehensive piece of legislation established uniform standards for inspecting all varieties of poultry to prevent diseased or contaminated birds from entering the food supply. Prior to this date, the US Department of Agriculture had monitored poultry quality only at the invitation of individual poultry processors. The 1957 Poultry Products Inspection Act required processors to cooperate with government inspectors. Provisions of the act also spelled out penalties for companies selling contaminated products or failing to maintain sanitary conditions in their plants.

Specifically, the act, under the governance of the Department of Agriculture, established rules for pre- and post-mortem inspection of poultry, with procedures for the quarantine and disposal of products deemed unfit . It authorized the establishment of sanitary practices for facilities and equipment which would also be verified by inspection. It established labeling standards, listed prohibited practices aimed at circumventing quality assurance, and specified fines and even possible prison sentences for those companies not complying with the regulations.

Some exemptions to the act’s provisions included those individuals who raised and slaughtered their own poultry, poultry processed for uses other than human consumption, and, curiously, pizza! The USDA inspectors evidently didn’t want to maintain a presence in the some kitchens (and felt it necessary to state so). Here’s how they spelled it out:

“The Secretary shall exempt pizzas containing a poultry product from the inspection requirements of this chapter if –

(A) the poultry product components of the pizzas have been prepared, inspected, and passed in a cured or cooked form as ready-to-eat in compliance with the requirements of this chapter; and

(B) the pizzas are to be served in public or private nonprofit institutions.”

In other words, no USDA inspectors wearing hairnets in school kitchens (among other places)!

The 1957 Poultry Products Inspection Act remained in force until July 31, 2014, when new regulations were established after much wrangling between the USDA, the poultry processing industry, and labor unions. The government wanted processors to perform some of the poultry inspections themselves, freeing government inspectors to focus more of their attention on sanitary conditions in general. Feathers flew and the poultry processors and unions opposed this, but the USDA prevailed. The processors also wanted to speed up the production line from 140 to 175 chickens per minute, which the unions opposed, and which the government decided to veto.

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