USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) published updated guidance this week regarding retained water in meat and poultry products.

The guidance, published in the Federal Register on Monday, updates the formula used to calculate how much water is expected to be naturally retained in the post-processing of meat and poultry products.


FSIS in 2001 published a final rule entitled “Retained Water in Raw Meat and Poultry Products; Poultry Chilling Requirements,” which set limits for water retained in raw, single-ingredient, meat and poultry products. FSIS published compliance guidance in 2005 regarding the calculation of such retained water and updated its guidance again in 2015. FSIS is again updating its guidance in 2024.

“The updated guideline includes better explanations of the measurement formulae used in determining retained water percentages,” FSIS said in the summary of its proposed guidance. “It provides the mathematical formulae for calculating retained water using the weight of the carcasses, the mathematical formulae for calculating the moisture percentages, and the mathematical formulae for calculating retained water using moisture percentages.”

The guidance also explains that establishments should have large enough sample sizes to ensure accurate results. In addition, the guidance expands on what constitutes acceptable analysis and conclusions of the retained water data for labeling purposes, including demonstrating that a given package in a lot retains no more water than what is declared on the label within a 20% margin of error.

The guideline recommends that establishments verify the retained water in their products at a frequency that ensures they maintain process control of the retained water in their systems, i.e., that the retained water percentages do not exceed the labeling declarations over time.

The guideline also provides information needed for retained water testing methods to be applied, such as the number of carcasses tested, the carcass type ( e.g., specific poultry carcass type), the weight of the carcass at each point tested, the time period tested, the number of sample sets tested, and the frequency of how often retained water is verified for labeling purposes.

The guidance does not have the force and effect of law and is intended only to provide clarity to the public regarding existing requirements under the law or agency policies.

FSIS’s updated guidance can be found here.