Grade A Poultry
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Poultry Grading is a voluntary, fee-based system whereby poultry producers can have their product graded by a Federal Inspector. Grade A Poultry is the highest quality and will be nicely shaped, plump, un-bruised, de-feathered, have a nice, fatty skin, be free of broken or disjointed bones and have a minimal amount of exposed flesh due to cuts and tears.

Production

Specifically, according to the USDA, Grade A Poultry will be judged on its conformation, fleshing, fat covering, de-feathering, and amount of exposed flesh.

  • Conformation: The carcass or part will be free of deformities that detract from its appearance or that affect the normal distribution of flesh.  Slight deformities, such as slightly curved or dented breastbones and slightly curved backs, may be present. 
  • Fleshing (plumpness): The carcass will have a well-developed covering of flesh considering the kind, class, and part.  The breast is moderately long and deep, and has sufficient flesh to give it a rounded appearance with the flesh carrying well up to the crest of the breastbone along its entire length.  The leg is well fleshed and moderately thick and wide at the knee and hip joint area, and has a well-rounded, plump appearance with the flesh carrying well down toward the hock and upward to the hip joint area.  The drumstick is well fleshed and moderately thick and wide at the knee joint, and has a well-rounded, plump appearance with the flesh carrying well down toward the hock.  The thigh is well to moderately fleshed.  The wing is well to moderately fleshed.
  • Fat Covering: The carcass or part, considering the kind, class, and part, has a well-developed layer of fat in the skin.  The fat is well distributed so that there is a noticeable amount of fat in the skin in the areas between the heavy feather tracts. 
  • De-feathering: The carcass or part shall have a clean appearance, especially on the breast and legs, and shall be free of protruding feathers and hairs.
  • Exposed flesh: “The requirements contained in this section are applicable to exposed flesh resulting from cuts, tears, and missing skin. The carcass may have exposed flesh due to cuts, tears, and missing skin, provided the aggregate area of all exposed flesh does not exceed” a maximum percentage of the size of the bird as established by a series of tables in the document.  “Large carcass parts, specifically halves, front halves, or rear halves, may have exposed flesh due to cuts, tears, and missing skin, provided the aggregate area of all exposed flesh does not exceed” a maximum percentage of the size of the bird or part as established by a series of tables. “Other parts may have exposed flesh due to cuts, tears, and missing skin, provided the aggregate area of all exposed flesh does not exceed” a maximum percentage of the size of the part as established by a series of tables.
  • Disjointed and broken bones and missing parts: Parts are free of broken bones.  Parts are free of disjointed bones except that thighs with back portions, legs, or leg quarters may have the femur disjointed from the hip joint.  The carcass is free of broken bones and has not more than one disjointed bone. The wing tips may be removed at the joint, and in the case of ducks and geese, the parts of the wing beyond the second joint may be removed, if removed at the joint and both wings are so treated.  The tail may be removed at the base.  Cartilage separated from the breastbone is not considered a disjointed or broken bone. 
  • Discolorations: The requirements contained in this section are applicable to discolorations of the skin and flesh of poultry, and the flesh of skinless poultry. The carcass, parts derived from the carcass, or large carcass parts may have slight discolorations, provided the discolorations do not detract from the appearance of the product. Evidence of incomplete bleeding, such as more than an occasional slightly reddened feather follicle, is not permitted.
  • Freezing defects: With respect to consumer packaged poultry, parts, or specified poultry food products, the carcass, part, or specified poultry food product is practically free from defects which result from handling or occur during freezing or storage. 
  • Backs: Grade A quality backs shall meet all applicable provisions of this section pertaining to parts, and shall include the meat contained on the ilium (oyster), pelvic meat and skin and vertebral ribs and scapula with meat and skin.

Source: USDA’s United States Classes and Grades for Poultry. The link goes off the Smart Kitchen site to the USDA website.