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A guide to the Pathology and

Inspection of Poultry
In the UK we eat over 25kg of poultry meat per person per year and over
850million broiler chickens are slaughtered to meet the demand
The health and welfare of these birds is protected by the veterinary
surgeons who work in poultry research, disease surveillance and for the
Meat Hygiene Service
This is a guide to the common pathological conditions encountered in the
modern processing plant
H Thompson
R Irvine
D J Taylor
W Steele

The modern poultry

plant handles 10
thousand birds per
hour and does this
hygienically and with
It is the duty of the
Veterinary surgeon
to make sure
standards are
maintained at all

A Perthshire poultry plant

The five major stages from farm to fork

Stage 1

Ante mortem inspection -------- Dead on arrivals

Stage 2

Inspection after stunning, bleeding, scalding and defeathering

Stage 3 Inspection after evisceration ------ the carcase and internal organs

Stage 4 Packing portioning and labelling

Stage 5 Customer complaints

Stage 1. Ante mortem and dead on arrivals

The birds reach the plant on lorries from the farm
The live birds in their transport modules are inspected by the Official
Veterinary surgeon (OV)
The module drawers are moved to the hanging on bay, where, in
subdued lighting live birds are lifted and hung upside down on a
moving line

Crated chickens arrive at the plant

and await transfer to the shackling

Shackling is done in darkness save for a single UV light source to

keep the birds calm

Dead on arrival, from the shackling point ( 3 birds from 3,500)

Approximately one bird in every thousand is dead on arrival

Small or deformed birds can be culled at stage 1

Pathology of dead on arrival

Acute heart failure (heart is not pumping blood around
the body)
Congestive heart failure with ascites
( Water belly)
Pectoral myopathy

Ascites (water-belly,
congestive heart failure)

Ascites occurs due to stress on the cardiopulmonary system, and is characterized by a

build-up of fluid in the abdomen of the bird.
Birds may also die without any obvious symptoms. Birds that do not die from the
disease are considered inedible.
There are many factors thought to affect the development of ascites. The disease is
stimulated by rapid growth, cold temperatures during brooding, excess dietary salt levels
and/or genetic factors.
Preventative measures include slowing early growth, ensuring a comfortable and
consistent brooding temperature to prevent chilling, and checking water quality for
sodium content. It is also important to adequately ventilate the bird housing area, as dust
and ammonia can damage lung tissue and may be a causative factor of ascites.

Congestive heart failure( water belly) swollen abdomen congested carcase

Waterbelly fibrinous ascites and congestion

Heart failure note the huge heart and liver



is observed in heavy meat types of turkeys or chickens. The disease

occurs because of ischaemic necrosis due to inadequate blood supply of
variously sized deep pectoral muscle groups. The lesion is uni- or bilateral
and is detected as a slaughterhouse finding. Affected muscles have an
unusual green colour.

Deep pectoral myopathy (Oregon disease)

AVIAN COLIBACILLOSIS is considered to be one of the

major bacterial disease in the poultry industry worldwide.
Avian colibacillosis is an infectious disease of birds
caused by Escherichia coli, which is considered as one
of the principal causes of morbidity and mortality,
associated with heavy economic losses to the poultry
industry by its association with various disease
Colibacillosis of poultry is characterized in its acute form
by septicemia resulting in death and in its subacute form
by peri-carditis, airsacculitis and peri-hepatitis.

Ecoli septicaemia peritonitis and pericarditis

Ecoli infection pericarditis, perihepatitis

Crating injuries (eg. broken wings,

trapped head), a thing of the past in the
modern plant due to better design of the
bird crates.

Stage 2 inspection after stunning, bleeding

scalding and defeathering

The birds are stunned unconscious and bled by the automatic cutters
There is a manual backup before the carcases of the dead birds are dipped into the scald tank
to help loosen feathers
Still in the shackles the feathers are removed by the mechanical plucking machines
The carcases are now ready for first visual inspection

Shackled live birds enter the stunner

Birds enter the


Stunned birds

Stunned birds enter

the neck cutter

Bleeding trough an operator checks the birds to confirm all have

been stunned and bled properly

The birds enter the scalder

The de-feathering machine

Out of the de-feathering machine

The first inspection point on

the line

Rejected birds at first inspection point

Stage 2. Pathological findings

Production faults - Welfare

Inadequate bleeding (redneck)

Poor defeathering
Bruises and fractures
Mechanical damage

Disease findings

Dermatitis ( breast blisters, ruptured air sacs plantar pododermatitis
Anaemia and jaundice


Poor defeathering

Trauma and bruising

Leg bone fractures can occur spontaneously on the farm
during catching, transportation or shackling
They are usually closed oblique fractures of the femur
and the timing of the injury can be judged from the colour
of the bruising
Red within 24 hours, dark red, yellow or green 48-72
Rupture of the gastronemius tendon which can be
unilateral or bilateral can also occur spontaneously
With older lesions the green discolouration in the
subcutaneous tissue close to the hock is distinctive


Oblique fracture of the femur


Broken wing

Fresh carcase bruising

Freshly fractured femur

Bruising of a few days duration

Ruptured gastronemius

Shackling damage



Machinery damage no bleeding or haemorrhage

Fractured tibia/fibula

Skin tear by machinery

Faecal contamination

Water belly

Water belly with


Emaciation (abnormal thinness caused by lack of nutrition or by disease ) and congestion ( an excessive or
abnormal accumulation of blood or other fluid in a body part or blood vessel )

Breast blister(enlarged, discolored area on the breast or keel

bone often seen in heavy birds)

Is a bacterial disease causing chickens to develop plaques in their
It is caused by Escherichia coli. Chickens with skin trauma, especially
scratches, have poor feathering and/or in crowded conditions are more
predisposed to coliform cellulitis.
See more at:

Coliform cellulitis

Coliform cellulitis

Contact dermatitis
Several forms of contact dermatitis are recognised
including plantar pododermatitis, hock burn, breast burn
or scabby hip
The common link is poor litter management.
The lesions start as ulcers or abrasions on the affected
part which become filled with black scabs of necrotic
debris, bacteria and plant material.

Contact dermatitis

Hock burn

Contact dermatitis

Hock burn

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis


Contact dermatitis

Plantar pododermatitis
minor and severe

Head pecking with subsequent infection and ulceration

Dehydration and anaemia

Jaundice alongside an overscald for comparison

Stage 3: Inspection after evisceration

The head is removed
An eviscerating machine removes the intestine
and internal organs
The carcase and viscera of each bird are
Suspect or diseased organs and carcases are

The eviscerator from the

PIA platform

Carcase and offal correlation

Stage 3: Inspection after evisceration

Production faults
Mutilated carcases

Disease findings

Water belly
Colibacillosis : perihepatitis, pericarditis
Congenital defects

Mutilated carcase - skin torn by eviscerator



E coli septicaemia

Osteomyelitis following E coli infection ( characterized by a firm bony swelling (arrow)

at the caudal thoracic vertebrae in a broiler)






Bloody content in caecum

Coliform cellulitis

Congenital abnormality defective keel bone (keel bone is an extension of

the sternum (breastbone) which runs axially along the midline of the sternum
and extends outward, perpendicular to the plane of the ribs)

Congenital defect defective abdominal skin

Wings are checked before proceeding to grading

Carcases enter the grading and cutting plant

Carcase grading

Stage 4: Packing, portioning and labelling

The carcases are washed in potable water

Chilled down to 4 degrees C by cold air and
water jets
After a period of maturation, usually 8-10 hours
they are ready for bagging as oven ready birds
or portioning and packing into plastic trays for
supermarket chiller cabinets

The skill of the processor is to maximise the value of the product

Most products are now carefully labelled

Always look for the health stamp which
denotes country of origin and the abattoir

Stage 5: Customer complaints

Nothing is perfect ! Even with the best checks
and controls customers will find faults when
handling or cooking the finished product
Complaints are usually directed to the
Environmental Health Agencies
A veterinary pathologist is sometimes required to
identify the fault

Stage 5: customer complaints

Customers are sometimes alarmed by unfamiliar
pieces of normal tissue eg. Kidney or bursa of
Diseased or discoloured pieces of chicken as a
result of disease may reach the consumer
despite the best controls eg. Pectoral myopathy
or breast blisters


Bursa Fabricius

Purchasers complaint

Normal fresh bird kidney

Spiced kidney

Abscess in breast

A portion of chicken tikka

XN 2875

Inspissated pus from

shelled out abscess

XN 2875

Breast blister from

broiler chicken

XN 3160
A customer returns a
piece of fresh
discoloured chicken
from a supermarket
Raw chicken as presented

Fixed piece of same chicken showing distinctive green colour of pectoral myopathy

XN 3160

Deep pectoral myopathy in the chicken, Oregon disease.