The labeling modifications, which must clearly state that the products require cooking, were considered necessary by the regulatory agency following a product recall in March last year.
According to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), inadequate labeling coupled with the appearance of the recalled chicken products could have led people to believe that they were precooked, thereby risking consumer safety.
Just after the recall, the agency sent a letter to manufactures of uncooked, breaded, boneless chicken products recommending that labels be modified to emphasize that these are uncooked.
In its updated guidance document, the USDA said "prominent and clear" terms must be used on the principal display panel of labels in order to convey that the product contains raw poultry. Such terms could include "raw," "uncooked," or "not ready to eat." The phrase "ready to cook" should not be used unless used in conjunction with a term such as one of those listed above, said the agency.
In addition, only validated cooking instructions should appear on labeling. These should include, at a minimum: the method of cooking; an endpoint temperature of 165 degrees F or higher; and instruction that the endpoint temperature is measured by use of a thermometer.
An appropriate example of the labeling provided by the USDA reads: "Uncooked: for safety, must be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F as measured by use of a thermometer."
"By improving the cooking instructions, as well as documenting that cooking methods are validated as part of the official labeling record, a situation like the one that that led to the recent recall could be avoided," said the USDA.
The types of products requiring labeling changes include raw or not ready to eat, breaded (both pre-browned and not pre-browned), boneless poultry products that also may be stuffed or filled, char-marked, or artificially colored.
Examples of such products include breaded chicken patties, breaded, pre-browned, chicken cordon bleu, chicken Kiev, chicken stuffed with broccoli and cheese, turkey patties, and chicken nuggets.