Food processors in the United States go to great lengths to prevent the outbreak of diseases in their products. In an effort to eliminate diseases in poultry products, the U.S. government created the National Poultry Improvement Plan, NPIP, in 1935. This program is voluntary and requires poultry breeders and hatcheries to certify that their flocks meet certain standards established by the NPIP and are disease-free.

Application for NPIP Certified Operations

While the federal government oversees the NPIP, each state has its own agency that administers the certification program and inspects all poultry operations. Usually, each state's agency operates under its Department of Agriculture. You can find a certification inspector for your state by visiting the NPIP database on its website.

After the poultry owner submits an application for certification, the state agency will conduct an initial inspection of the owner's facilities. The owner will pay the certification fees and agree to submit to yearly inspections thereafter.

Depending on the state, the local agency may perform the tests or the poultry operators may be allowed to do the testing themselves. In these cases, the poultry owners must pass examinations from the NPIP, purchase their own testing equipment and receive training to earn the certification. A few states will allow approved individuals to become authorized testers and provide their services to other poultry owners and charge fees for their work.

NPIP has extensive and detailed guidelines that describe the procedures and inspections needed to maintain certification. Examples of these guidelines are the blood and swab testing procedures, biological examinations and sanitation procedures.

Blood and Swab Testing Procedures

Blood tests are used to detect diseases such as avian influenza, variations of pullorum, fowl typhoid and mycoplasma. Inspectors will take a mouth swab to test for the avian influenza virus.

The minimum number of birds to be sampled must be at least 300. If the flock has less than 300 birds, each one must be tested individually. Blood is drawn from a vein on the wing and tested onsite for pullorum/typhoid.

Biosecurity Principles

Each farm must meet minimum practices and principles designed to prevent the introduction and spread of infectious diseases.

For example, farms must have a line of separation that separates the poultry inside a house from exposure to potential diseases. Usually, this is defined by the walls of the building. The biosecurity plan should describe the boundaries of the line of separation and clearly state the procedures that caretakers, visitors and suppliers must follow when crossing this line.

Each farm must also have a perimeter buffer area that surrounds the poultry houses and separates them from areas unrelated to poultry production. The biosecurity plan should specify the boundaries of the PBA and outline the procedures that caretakers, visitors and other personnel must follow when entering and leaving the PBA.

The operations should have measures to control and prevent the poultry from contact with wild birds and their feces and feathers. These procedures should be documented and also have controls for rodents, insects and other animals.

Replacement poultry should be sourced with NPIP chickens in compliance with guidelines. They should be transported in vehicles that have been cleaned, disinfected and inspected.

The operator will maintain complete records on an individual flock basis about mortality, treatments, disease diagnosis and vaccinations. These records should be easily accessible for inspection.

Sanitation Procedures

NPIP has programs designed to reduce the incidence of salmonella. These programs are aimed at maintaining effective and practical sanitation procedures at the farm and hatchery.

For example, NPIP requires that baby poultry be housed in a separate brooder facility and isolated from old birds and other animals. Personnel who have been working with older birds must take precautions, such as disinfecting footwear and changing outer clothing to prevent the possibility of infection through droppings that may attach to shoes, clothing or hands.

While it takes a considerable amount of work to receive and maintain an NPIP certification, the results for poultry breeders and hatcheries are worth the effort.