USDA inspections involve visual examination of meat and poultry plants as well as tests for contamination, according to the USDA website, at FSIS.USDA.gov. Officials perform these inspections in order to grade meat and poultry products for wholesomeness, with the paid option of grading for quality as well.
USDA inspections involve some visual examination of a company's animals and operations, in order to detect the presence of animal disease, according to FSIS.USDA.gov. However, as the food industry changes, meat production has been increasingly more affected by chemical or microbiological contaminants, and disease is less common. USDA inspections thus include multiple contamination tests in addition to visual inspections. These include testing products to check conformity to pathogen rejection standards, tests of the presence of fecal contamination in animal products, and the availability of physical copies of federally mandated operating procedures within the plant.
Any company that produces meat or poultry is required to go through this process annually or whenever a major change occurs in the company or plant that could affect the presence of contaminants, states FSIS.USDA.gov. Once inspected, if the product passes tests for federal standards of wholesomeness, it is stamped with a circle of vegetable dye, and production can resume as usual. After a plant passes wholesomeness tests, companies can pay for quality grades. For example, USDA quality grades for beef, from highest to lowest, are Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter and Canner.