WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture here has adopted a new set of logos designating that poultry and eggs have passed their inspection process. The introduction follows a recently unveiled initiative to protect eggs from food-borne pathogens from the processor to the store level.
The poultry logo features a smiling chicken flexing its "muscles" with the USDA shield in front. The egg design is virtually identical, except the graphic includes a large egg.
According to Mike Holbrook, deputy administrator for the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service Poultry Programs, the grading system itself has not been altered, the logo -- introduced earlier in the summer -- was merely designed to make it easier for consumers to recognize the inspected products.
Holbrook said the USDA "conducted consumer focus groups in just about every major city in the country" to learn what the public thought of the government's grading systems. The responses proved the majority of consumers had no idea what the grading system was.
In response to this lack of public awareness, the USDA moved on to a second phase focusing on consumer education. They explained the grading process and its importance to their focus groups and the results were positive.
"Now that they understood, people said [the grading system] did make a difference," said Holbrook. "They said they would pay 10 cents extra for these [government-inspected and labeled] eggs."
Having witnessed a change of heart in their selected consumers, the USDA decided to take the idea of a consumer education effort national. With the help of a public relations firm, they created informational brochures for grocers to distribute to their customers, as well as instructional packages for teachers looking to educate future shoppers on the importance of food safety and another package designed for editors with the hope of spreading the word via the media. The campaign was completed with the design of the logo.
"What we're trying to do now is get the word out to consumers that this grading approval really should matter to them," said Holbrook, adding that acceptance and excitement over the new labels appears to be spreading.
"Safeway is telling us they're going to put the logo on all of their turkeys," he said. "And Wal Mart is putting them on all egg cartons."
He also said retailers have been commenting on how pleased they are by the customer response.
Retailers don't have to sign up for this program, according to Holbrook. He said an effort has been made for "general distribution" of the information so that everyone may participate.
Poultry and eggs with the USDA Grade Shield have been examined by independent, third-party USDA graders who continuously monitor the processing and packaging to assure quality. The grade standards are applied uniformly on a nationwide basis.
For poultry, the USDA requires that whole chickens and turkeys, as well as bone-in parts, are plump and meaty, and do not have broken or disjointed bones; the poultry skin does not have feathers, cuts, tears, or bruises; boneless poultry products are free of bone, cartilage, tendons, and bruises; frozen poultry is not dehydrated and does not have excess moisture in the package; and the package is properly labeled and the net weight is accurate.
Officially graded eggs must be fresh and have clean, smooth, unbroken shells; cover a small area when broken out of the shell; have yolks that are round and stand high; have whites that are firm and thick; are examined to eliminate those with cracks and other imperfections; meet all weight requirements for the designated size; and have not been returned from retail channels and repackaged.