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Essential Steps in Poultry Testing for Optimal Quality

poultry testing

From Starters to Growers to Finishers

Delivering the highest quality product is at the top of nearly every company’s priority list, but for those in the poultry industry, it can be a matter of public safety. And “good enough” just won’t cut it when you’re responsible for keeping consumers from being exposed to dangerous pathogens and bacteria. That’s why poultry testing is so important.

Testing should happen at every stage of the process for the highest quality output. Starters (grain processors and feed mills), growers (hatcheries), and finishers (processors) all have a role to play in safely delivering a final poultry product to market. At any point of the poultry lifecycle, contaminants, disease, or improper levels of moisture or nutrients could compromise the quality of the final output.

You Are What You Eat…Goes for Chicks, Too

Healthy poultry starts with what they’re consuming, and therefore, poultry testing should begin with the grains used in the feed that the chicks eat. Checking levels of moisture, protein, fiber, and calcium phosphorous and other factors will ensure that the chicks are getting the highest quality feed.

Not only does grain and feed testing go far in ensuring a healthy flock, but it may be a requirement that can significantly cost companies if they aren’t meeting the right standards. Soybean oil, for example, is sold to meet quality standards. If it doesn’t, the buyer may be entitled to a refund for a percentage of the purchasing price. The nutritionist needs to know the quality of the ingredients used to make the feed in order to produce a product for hatcheries that meet feed requirements.

When evaluating which lab to use for testing grains, it’s important to note the track record, reputation and certifications held by the lab as it applies to specific needs. Labs that test soybean meal aren’t required to be AOCS certified, but having that distinction gives customers confidence that they’re monitored by the National Oilseed Processors Association (NOPA) for competency and skill.

Another program that is used to show competency is the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). The AAFCO Proficiency Testing Program Animal Feed Scheme supports labs with monthly competency checks for commercial feeds, evaluating nutrients, drugs, antibiotics, minerals, and vitamins. Labs that prescribe to AAFCO feed checks have an extra level of quality assurance, for an extra level of customer confidence.

Maintaining a Healthy Flock

The National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) was established back in 1935 as a response to a Salmonella Pullorum outbreak in the late ‘20s that devastated the poultry industry and had an 80% mortality rate among baby poultry. Today, it’s a program overseen by the USDA and managed state-by-state, with the purpose of monitoring flocks and hatcheries for disease.

Hatcheries that are NPIP certified follow a set of standards that include blood testing the flock, bacterial and sanitation examination procedures, molecular examination procedures, and other testing to ensure the poultry being delivered is safe for consumption. Furthermore, the poultry feed can be continually analyzed to detect disease origin or nutrition levels.

At this stage, it’s advised to test for chick edema (hydropericardium) — a disease in young chicks that occurs via feed-grade fats and fatty acids and can lead to a high mortality rate, resulting in huge losses. Labs that test for chick edema can help identify the source of the issue to quickly remedy the situation before a large loss of flock.

Delivering a Quality Product Through Poultry Testing

As birds are ready to be processed, packaged, and distributed, there are poultry testing procedures that should be performed to make sure nothing is introduced during the final stages of production. Tests on rinse waters and raw finished meats can help to identify issues.

Microbiology laboratory tests raw materials, ingredients, finished product, and environmental swab samples for pathogens including Listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli O157:H7, as well as indicator organisms like coliform/E. Coli, Enterobacteriaceae, aerobic and anaerobic bacteria, and yeast and mold.

And so each step is dependent on the step before to ensure a high-quality product throughout the full supply chain. Partnering with a laboratory with the appropriate certifications, accreditations, and quality checks in place will help to reduce recalls and losses from disease, pathogens, and improper nutrient levels.

Submitting a Good Sample

Finding a good lab partner is step one, but in order to get the best possible results, a company needs to have a good sampling process in place. Often, companies manually retrieve samples, which can lead to inconsistencies and miss problems entirely. Taking a scoop off the top of the feed, for example, isn’t going to give a representative sample to the lab to analyze.

Accurate results come from consistent sampling throughout the process. Many companies are finding that auto-sampling is an investment that helps to get that representative sample, thereby better identifying issues in any stage of production.

Work with an Expert Poultry Testing Laboratory

Partnering with a testing laboratory that quickly turns around results is imperative. The typical poultry lifecycle is four to six weeks from hatching to processing, so identifying and reversing the impact of contaminants, nutritional imbalances and diseases need to be fast so that production doesn’t slow down. Look for labs that can get results back within 24 hours for emergency situations, and no more than five days for typical testing.

Barrow-Agee’s experts can guide customers in putting together a sampling process and testing program to ensure the highest quality poultry products are reaching consumers. Contact us today to discuss your poultry testing needs.

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Barrow-Agee Laboratories is a laboratory testing services provider for numerous industries that support consumers and businesses alike. Whatever your testing needs may be, Barrow-Agee has the testing solution and support to help you get the results you need.