Are things like cancerous tumors allowed by meat inspection?

Each animal and carcass is inspected for safety and wholesomeness before it enters the food supply.

Meat and poultry products are inspected by U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service inspectors for safety and wholesomeness. Inspectors are trained to look for cancerous lesions among other diseases. There have been online stories and posts related to cancerous tumors being allowed in meat. Is this true?

Both antemortem and postmortem inspection occurs on each animal or carcass. Antemortem inspection includes evaluation of each live animal right before slaughter for signs of disease and other factors that may find the animal unfit for human consumption. After live animals are inspected, three outcomes are possible:

a)      passed for slaughter (the carcass is still further evaluated and inspected during slaughter),

b)      U.S. Suspect, or  

c)      U.S. Condemned. Extra scrutiny and/or further testing of the carcass will occur for U.S. Suspect animals. Animals that are U.S. Condemned are not allowed to be slaughtered and are humanely euthanized. Only animals that inspectors see fit for human consumption are eligible for slaughter.

Postmortem inspection looks at each carcass and the corresponding head, lymph nodes, internal organs, and occurs throughout the slaughter process. Carcasses can fall into four categories:

a)      U.S. Inspected and passed without restriction,

b)      U.S. Inspected and passed with restriction (cooking or freezing),

c)      U.S. Retained, or

d)      U.S. Inspected and condemned. Carcasses that are condemned are not allowed to enter commerce/food supply and are denatured and disposed of appropriately.

Denaturing involves covering the carcass or meat with a non-toxic colored dye. The purpose of the dye is to clearly change the appearance of the condemned meat to something that does not resemble edible product. Colored dye typically includes colors such as green, black or blue, does not wash off of the meat, and may be incorporated throughout the meat.  

Inspectors that observe potential signs of disease or things such as cancerous lesions or tumors retain the carcasses until the public health veterinarian (PHV) inspector assigned to the establishment can make final disposition of the carcass. The PHV inspector will often send samples to a laboratory for further analysis/confirmation. A carcass remains on hold as suspect until the results of pathology return from a USDA laboratory.

Cancerous lesions or tumors are not allowed to enter commerce or the food chain. If laboratory results indicate the presence of cancer within the carcass, the carcass will be marked U.S. Inspected and condemned. Once a carcass is condemned, it is denatured and disposed of so it cannot enter the food chain.

Michigan State University Extension continues to recommend properly handling and cooking of raw meat to ensure safety. Use a food thermometer to determine doneness. Color is not an indicator of doneness in ground beef and other ground meats. 

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