AMS has implemented an optional new program for companies to apply and use the U.S. Standards for Carcass Beef. The grade applied to the carcass is the same official grade a USDA meat grader would apply using the same grading factors.
The new program is comprised of three major components. The first two components remain unchanged from previous grading programs: the use of an AMS-approved grading instrument, and an onsite AMS meat grader. The third component, use of an AMS-certified plant employee to apply the grade, offers savings to the company while at the same time ensuring the integrity of the grade application through the careful oversight of an AMS employee.
- The Quality System Assessment (QSA) Program: The plant must have an AMS-approved QSA in place that documents the roles and responsibilities of both the establishment and the employee, as well as all the procedures used to meet the program’s requirements.
- AMS-Certified Plant Employee: To participate in this new grading program plants will have an AMS-certified employee who operates the grading instrument and reviews the grading determination it makes for each carcass. The plant employee will be trained to evaluate other quality factors as well, such as color and carcass maturity, which will lead to either accepting or rejecting the instrument’s preliminary grade. The AMS meat grader overseeing the operation will evaluate the plant employee on a monthly basis to ensure that he/she maintains an adequate knowledge of the beef grading standards and any certification schedules involved. Plant employees are required to renew their certification every two years. The renewal, conducted by AMS personnel, involves a written test and a cooler test based on select beef carcasses. The plant representative must participate in scheduled meetings with the AMS meat grader to discuss issues and/or observations that promote continuous improvement of the program.
- AMS-Approved and Calibrated Instrument and Software: AMS-approved instrument grading uses a camera image to determine the amount of marbling in the ribeye. The instrument then assigns the carcass a preliminary grade based on that factor. Instruments must be validated each morning prior to plant start-up under the oversight of the AMS meat grader. Validation records for each instrument are maintained by the AMS meat grader and plant management. If the instrument operates correctly, the plant employee may begin to use the instrument to capture an image of each side of the carcass to determine the grade. If the instrument does not validate, the AMS meat grader will step in to use traditional grading methods until the instrument is validated. The plant must maintain records noting that its operators are properly-trained to use the grading instrument.
- AMS Meat Grading Agent: A trained AMS meat grader must be stationed at the facility at all times. He or she will have defined monitoring activities to evaluate the final grade applied by the certified plant employee. The AMS grader will conduct monthly trainings for the certified plant employee and maintain records to ensure integrity of the program. He/She will oversee camera validation each morning prior to plant start up to ensure proper validation. The AMS grader will monitor the program throughout the day, observing graded carcasses on the grading chain and throughout the coolers to the fabrication process. The AMS grader meets with plant personnel as needed to discuss issues and/or observations with an eye on improvement.