New Poultry Information:

Small Flock Processing Guidance

Report on Selling Poultry to Retail Food Establishments

New State Licensing for Small and Mid-Sized Poultry Processors

Definition: Unprocessed meat from domestic chicken, geese, ducks, turkey, guineas, emu, ostrich, other ratites, pigeons

Harvest/Post Harvest: All poultry that is sold directly to consumers must be slaughtered and processed in an inspected facility. There are two types of inspection:

  1. Mandatory meat inspection covers the following species: Domestic (chicken, geese, ducks, turkey, guineas)
  2. Voluntary meat inspection: Emu, ostrich, other ratites, pigeons, game meats (those considered indigenous to North America such as quail, pheasant & doves)

Mandatory poultry inspection falls under the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act.  These inspections are regulated by the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  Any poultry that is packaged for sale must have the USDA stamp (bug) indicating that it was processed in a federally inspected plant. Only federally inspected poultry may be sold across state lines.

FSIS inspectors examine animals before and after slaughter, preventing diseased animals from entering the food supply and examining carcasses for visible defects that can affect safety and quality. Inspectors also test for the presence of harmful pathogens and drug and chemical residues. Note also that FSIS inspects about 250,000 different processed meat and poultry products (see “other sales considerations” below). These include hams, sausages, soups, stews, pizzas, frozen dinners, and products containing 2% or more cooked poultry or at least 3% raw meat. In addition to inspecting these products during processing, FSIS evaluates and sets standards for food ingredients, additives, and compounds used to prepare and package meat and poultry products.

Voluntary poultry inspection applies to game and exotic species not covered under mandatory. Voluntary inspection is handled under USDA’s  Agricultural Marketing Act, with FSIS conducting the voluntary inspections. This Act gives the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to take whatever steps are necessary to make the product marketable. The FSIS inspector who is inspecting game or exotic species must have knowledge about that particular species and the carcass must fit available equipment in the plant. Businesses that request voluntary inspection must pay an hourly fee for the service whereas mandatory inspection is funded by tax dollars.

The Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) has a list of all custom slaughter and processing facilities in the state of Colorado under Inspection and Consumer Services, Meat – Custom Processing (List of Colorado Meat Processing Plants). This list shows whether each facility is USDA inspected, if they process wild game only and if they have a mobile unit (that could travel to a farm with appropriate water availability and waste disposal and slaughter on-site. Mobile facilities do not cut and wrap.). Contact the Colorado Department of Agriculture at (303) 867-9200 with questions.

Poultry Exemptions:

From 9 CFR 381.10: The custom slaughter by any person of poultry delivered by the owner for such slaughter, and the processing by such slaughterer and transportation in commerce of the poultry products exclusively for use, in the household of such owner, by him and members of his household and his nonpaying guests and the employees: Provided, That such custom slaughterer does not engage in the business of buying or selling any poultry products capable of use as human food: And provided further, That in lieu of complying with all the adulteration and misbranding provisions of the Act, such poultry is healthy and is slaughtered and processed under such sanitary standards, practices, and procedures as result in the preparation of poultry products that are sound, clean and fit for human food, and the shipping containers of such poultry products bear the owner’s name and address and the statement “Exempted—P.L. 90–492.”

(5) The slaughtering of sound and healthy poultry and processing of poultry products therefrom in any State or territory or the District of Columbia by any poultry producer on his own premises with respect to poultry raised on his premises, and the distribution by any person solely within such jurisdiction of the poultry products derived from such operations: Provided, That (i) in lieu of complying with all the adulteration provisions of the Act, such poultry is slaughtered and otherwise processed and handled under such sanitary standards, practices, and procedures as result in the preparation of poultry products that are sound, clean, and fit for human food when so distributed; (ii) such poultry products when so distributed, bear (in lieu of labeling that would otherwise be required) the producer’s name and address and the statement “Exempted—P.L. 90–492” and such poultry products are not otherwise misbranded; (iii) such producer and distributor do not engage in the current calendar year in the business of buying or selling any poultry or poultry products other than as specified in this paragraph (a) (5) or (6) of this section; and (iv) neither such producer or distributor slaughters or processes the products of more poultry than allowed by paragraph (b) of this section.

Poultry Custom Exempt operations cannot be conducted in a federally inspected poultry operation, i.e.  meat processors cannot conduct both operations in one facility. Poultry has to be either under federal inspection or under custom exempt in one facility.

Food Safety:

It is essential to follow safe handling practices with poultry to prevent foodborne illness.  Bacteria, such as Salmonella and Campylobacter, can be found on raw poultry so it must be handled carefully to prevent cross-contamination.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported that 17% of foodborne illness outbreaks have been linked to poultry that was not handled properly or not cooked adequately, making poultry the commodity with the strongest link to foodborne illness.  Bacteria multiply rapidly at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F (out of refrigeration and before thorough cooking occurs) but they are destroyed at recommended cooking temperatures.  For these reasons, good handling practices and safety standards have been determined to prevent the risk of illness associated with poultry.

Safe Handling of Raw Poultry: Poultry is required to be chilled to 40°F or less within a specified time after slaughter. To prevent rapid growth of pathogenic bacteria, poultry products should be kept cold (40°F or below) or frozen (0°F or below) during transport. The term ‘fresh’ may only be placed on poultry that has never been below 26°F. Raw poultry held at a temperature of 0°F or below must be labeled with a “keep frozen” handling statement. Raw poultry has a very short refrigerator shelf life; USDA recommends that consumers freeze or cook fresh poultry within two days of purchase.

Bacteria Frequently Associated with Poultry:

  • There are over 2,000 types of Salmonella bacteria. Salmonella Enteritidis may be found in the intestinal tracts of many warm-blooded animals and is often associated with poultry and shell eggs.
  • Campylobacter jejuni is one of the most common causes of diarrheal illness in humans. Preventing cross-contamination and using proper cooking methods reduces infection by this bacterium.
  • Staphylococcus aureus can be carried on human hands and hair, in nasal passages and throats. It may be found in foods made by hand and improperly refrigerated, such as chicken salad.
  • Listeria monocytogenes is destroyed by cooking, but a cooked product can be contaminated after processing. Listeria is especially harmful to the elderly and pregnant women.


Temperature (ºF) Minimum Rest Time
Ground Turkey or Chicken 165ºF  for 15 seconds None

Chicken & Turkey, whole

Poultry breasts, roasts

Poultry thighs, legs, wings

Duck & Goose

Stuffing (cooked alone or in bird)

Consumer Safe Handling of Cooked Poultry: Use this chart and a food thermometer to ensure that poultry reaches a safe internal temperature. Poultry may appear done before reaching a safe minimum temperature. For retail temperature regulations, please contact your county health department or the Colorado Food Code.

Baby Poultry: Live baby poultry, such as chicks, ducklings, gosling and baby turkey poults, often displayed at markets or stores, may carry Salmonella. The bacteria may be in their droppings, or on feathers, feet, or beaks. Hands should always be washed thoroughly after handling baby poultry. While anyone can become ill from exposure to Salmonella, the risk is especially high for children, pregnant women, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems. Young children are at higher risk because their immune systems are still developing and they are more likely to put their hands in their mouths.

Distribution Method (Expand All | Collapse All)

You are selling your product from your farm or ranch or at a farmers' market

Licensing: If you are selling processed and packaged poultry from animals you own, to customers coming to your farm or ranch, the animals must be slaughtered in a USDA FSIS inspected facility and you will need a Retail Food Establishment License, issued by your county health department. If you are selling poultry back to its owner after slaughter and processing, this poultry doesn’t require USDA inspection—it is considered custom-exempt, meaning a processor that does not require continuous inspection because they only process poultry for the owner of the animal. The meat or poultry cannot be sold and can only be consumed by the following:

  • The owner of the animal
  • The owner’s immediate family
  • Non-paying guests

Custom processed meat and poultry must be labeled with “NOT FOR SALE”.

You are selling your product at a farmers’ market

Licensing: If you are selling processed and packaged poultry from animals you own in a farmers’ market, the animals must be slaughtered in a USDA FSIS inspected facility and you will need a Retail Food Establishment License, issued by your county health department.

If you are selling poultry raised by someone else, you will need a  Farm Product Dealers License.

You are selling your product to a store, restaurant, food cart, K-12 school, university, hospital, or other retail food establishment

Licensing: If you sell your poultry to a hotel, restaurant or institution (HRI), it must come from a federally or state inspected facility but it cannot represent more than 25% of the dollar value of your meat and poultry sales (or the current USDA limit of $46,700 for poultry). Your poultry product does not need to come from a USDA Food Safety Inspection Services (FSIS) inspected facility. These products can include:

  1. traditional raw product (cut-up, sliced, trimmed carcasses. Product can be frozen, ground and wrapped or re-wrapped.)
  2. prepared product which is ground, sliced chopped, with or without additives (such as seasonings, spices) IF these products are NOT cured, smoked, cooked or rendered.

If you cure, cook, smoke, render, refine fat or otherwise prepare your meat product (marinate, pump, salt, dry) you may still sell it to household consumers, but you MAY NOT sell it to an HRI without additional inspection from the USDA FSIS. If you prepare a product for resale by another establishment (you sell burritos to someone who will then sell them from a food cart), your meat product must be inspected by USDA FSIS. Contact the Consumer Protection Division of CDPHE at (303) 692-3629 or CPD@state.co.us.

If you are selling poultry raised by someone else, you will need a  Farm Product Dealers License.

Labeling: All poultry products sold to retail and wholesale customers must be labeled. There are up to eight specific requirements for each product label: (1) product name, (2) inspection legend and establishment number, (3) handling statement, (4) net weight statement, (5) ingredients statement, (6) address line, (7) nutrition facts, and (8) safe handling instructions. The information must or may appear on specified areas of the label. In designing a label, it is important to understand what information must go where. The USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) has produced a guide to provide the basic information necessary to devise a label for meat and poultry products and to understand the regulatory process administered by FSIS, A Guide to Federal Food Labeling Requirements for Meat and Poultry Products.

FSIS has additional information that is helpful in formulating a label including:

  • Meat and Poultry Labeling Terms (a glossary of meat and poultry labeling terms);
  • Ingredients Guidance (labeling ingredients guidance and inspection methods to protect consumers from misbranding);
  • Claims Guidance (claims guidance, policies, and inspection methods to protect consumers from economically adulterated meat, poultry, and egg products);
  • Irradiation (information and instructions regarding the irradiation of meat and poultry products in official establishments);
  • Natural or Regenerated Collagen Sausage Casing (final rule requiring that the source of natural sausage casings be disclosed on the product label if the casings are derived from a different type of meat or poultry than the meat or poultry encased in the sausage);
  • Nutrition Labeling Information (nutrition label information and guidance material); and
  • Product Dating (describes which types of foods are dated and how).

Grading: After poultry are inspected for wholesomeness, producers and processors may request to have the products graded for quality by a licensed Federal grader. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service is the agency responsible for grading poultry. Those who request grading must pay for the service.  USDA grades are based on nationally uniform Federal standards of quality. No matter where or when a consumer purchases graded poultry, it must have met the same grade criteria.

Chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, guineas, and pigeons are all eligible for grading and certification services provided by the AMS Poultry Programs’ Grading Branch. However, chickens and turkeys are the most common kinds of poultry sold today, often as value-added products. Poultry parts and an increasing number of skinless and/or boneless products are meeting consumer demand for convenient, lower fat, portion-controlled items. This shift away from whole carcass birds creates special challenges for buyers and sellers, whether they are poultry producers or processors, wholesalers, food manufacturers, food service operators, food retailers, or consumers. All of these traders can rely on USDA’s poultry grading services to ensure that their requirements for quality, weight, condition, and other factors are met. 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.

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. Refer to the USDA Grades for Meat and Poultry Fact Sheet.

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).

The USDA grades for poultry are A, B, and C.

  • Grade A is the highest quality and the only grade that is likely to be seen at the retail level. This grade indicates that the poultry products are virtually free from defects such as bruises, discolorations, and feathers. Bone-in products have no broken bones. For whole birds and parts with the skin on, there are no tears in the skin or exposed flesh that could dry out during cooking, and a good covering of fat under the skin. Also, whole birds and parts will be fully fleshed and meaty. The U.S. grade shield for poultry may be found on the following chilled or frozen ready-to-cook poultry products: whole carcasses and parts, as well as roasts, tenderloins, and other boneless and/or skinless poultry products that are being marketed. There are no grade standards for necks, wing tips, tails, giblets, or ground poultry.
  • Grades B and C poultry are usually used in further-processed products where the poultry meat is cut up, chopped, or ground. If sold at retail, they are usually not grade identified.

Most poultry grading services are performed at approximately 200 poultry processing plants nationwide, although some services are available at destination locations. Federal graders and federally-licensed State graders are trained to provide these services. The services are voluntary and provided on a fee basis to plants requesting the services. On a cost-per-pound basis, the cost for this service is minimal. To officially request USDA grading service, you will need to submit your request in writing. Complete the “Application for Service” Form, PY-32 (PDF), and send the completed form to the address below:

National Supervisor, Poultry
Poultry Programs, Grading Branch
1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Stop 0258
Washington, D.C. 20250
Telephone: (202) 720-3271
Fax: (202) 690-3165

Sales Tax Liability: General sales tax information.

Weights and Measures: All labels on poultry sold at retail must bear an accurate statement of the quantity of the package content in terms of weight. Such a statement must appear on the principal display panel of all containers to be sold at retail intact. The statement must be in terms of the package (so “net weight” or “net wt.”). See information on the net weight statement required for poultry products discussed in A Guide to Federal Food Labeling Requirements for Meat and Poultry Products, Section VII, Net Quantity. You must follow the Colorado weights and measures requirements.

Value Added Products:

References, Resources and Related Links: