Quality grades provide a standardized means of describing the marketability of a particular food product. Through the application of uniform grade standards, poultry and poultry products can be classified according to a wide range of quality characteristics. Buyers, sellers, and consumers alike can communicate about these characteristics through an understandable common language.
USDA has developed quality poultry grade standards
for whole carcasses and parts, as well as boneless and/or skinless parts and products. Depending upon the product, the standards define and measure quality in terms of meat yield, fat covering, and freedom from defects such as cuts and tears in the skin, broken bones, and discolorations on the meat and skin. The intensity, aggregate area, location, and number of defects encountered for each quality factor are determined. The final quality rating (A, B, or C) is based on the factor with the lowest rating. Poultry standards are reviewed, revised, and updated as needed to keep pace with changes in processing and merchandising.
In order for poultry to be eligible for an official USDA grade designation, each carcass or part must be first inspected for wholesomeness by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and individually graded by a plant grader. Then a sample of the product is taken by a USDA grader. Officially graded poultry that passes this examination and evaluation process is eligible for the grade shield and may be identified as USDA Grade A, B, or C. Quality grades and their application to poultry products are explained in detail in the USDA Poultry-Grading Manual (PDF).