Meat processing rules and regulations are complex but not impossible to understand.
Cindy Klug, director of the Bureau of Meat and Poultry Business at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, said maintaining proper temperatures, good sanitation and protection from foreign elements (indoors and out) are all important aspects of regulatory compliance.
“When planning to raise farm products for sale, you need to know and understand a variety of issues," she said. "Some relate to how food products are handled from harvest to sale, and others relate to how your products are positioned in the marketplace."
Speaking at a recent beef direct marketing workshop in Juneau, Klug outlined the licensing requirements for direct marketers and said all meat that is sold must be inspected. However, a direct marketer who markets the meat through the licensed processor does not need a license.
All meat derived from livestock sold to consumers must be inspected and passed at a state or federally inspected facility.
Products must be properly labeled and include the following: name of the product (e.g. Beef T-bone, ground ostrich, pork spareribs); list of ingredients if more than one ingredient, such as sausage; name and address of the packer, distributor or processor; and an inspection legend (USDA or WI symbol). In addition, perishable products must have a handling statement, such as “Keep Refrigerated” or “Keep Frozen” and raw and uncooked products must have a safe-handling label for consumers. Meat must also be sold by weight.
"If you sell directly from your farm, you must hold a retail food license, and your cooler or freezer must be inspected and used exclusively for the store and not for home use,” she said. “The cooler or freezer must be clean and located in a clean area.”
For those who choose to distribute meat from the farm, registration is required. Inspectors will check vehicles, freezers and coolers, and the frozen meat products must be maintained at internal temperature of 41 degrees F or below.
“There are great opportunities, and there is the demand for meat at farmers markets or delivered door-to-door," Klug said, "but to do that, you must have a retail license and vehicle inspections.”
Farmers market guidelines
When selling at a farmers market or on-farm store, the meat must be processed at a licensed facility and labeled “not inspected.” A mobile food license is also required.
“You could also go one step further by marketing beef in the form of a jerky or meat stick that is shelf stable," Klug said.
Klug shared ideas from her 17 years of experience as an inspector and the many years before that working in the meat industry.
“If you’re currently marketing quarters or halves, and you’re considering branching out, ask your current customers what they would like," she said. "Discuss ideas with your processor to see if he can do what you are requesting.
"If a processor is willing to make sausages, brats or smoked products, find out how much that will add to the cost and determine if it will be possible to get that out of the market.
“If you choose to market at farmers markets, you will likely have more success at the high-end markets where price is not an issue.
“Contact us at the DATCP, and then pick the brains of those in the niche market area.”
Klug suggested using the Niche Meat Processors Assistance Network listserv to ask and answer questions and share information about meat and poultry processing. The listserv has 1,000-plus members across the nation including small-scale processors, farmers, ranchers, Cooperative Extension personnel, federal and state employees and others. The website also offers webinars that Klug says are very helpful, especially to beginners in the direct marketing business.