Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator, Athens County and Buckeye Hills EERA
As the interest in locally produced and marketed food grows, livestock owners may find non-farm neighbors and friends asking if they can purchase meat products from them. Possibly livestock owners are wondering how they might add value to their livestock and market some of their livestock as meat to the public. Some basic factors that need to be considered include: regulations regarding meat processing and sales, finding a processor, pricing your product, risk management, and customer relations. In this article I will cover the regulations governing meat processing and sale to the public.
With regard to the regulations regarding meat processing and sale of meat to the public, there are two primary government agencies that are involved. These are the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the county Health Department. Meat sold into a public market must come from an approved source. The Ohio code says that an approved source is “A processor that is inspected by a federal food safety agency or equivalent, the Ohio Department of Agriculture whether mandatory or voluntary or other recognized food regulatory agency of another state responsible for food safety.” Under ODA regulations there are two types of red meat processors; the fully inspected plant and the custom meat plant. The fully inspected plant has an established inspection program and an identification mark in the shape of the state of Ohio is applied to all products that meet the criteria. All products with this stamped identification mark can be re-sold and distributed throughout the state of Ohio. The custom red meat plant has facilities and equipment approved for slaughter and processing but does not have a regular inspection program. Livestock may be slaughtered and processed into meat products for the owner of the livestock but those products must be identified by stamping all product packages with the wording “NOT FOR SALE”. These products can’t be resold. So the first step to selling meat products to neighbors or in a public market is to find a processor that is a state inspected facility.
If the livestock owner desires to have a farm label attached to the meat product that is being sold, that is possible. The livestock owner must work with the inspected plant and the state meat inspector assigned to that plant to develop a farm label that can be included with the state label on the meat products. Expect a 6 to 9 month time period for this process.
For more information about selling meat products as well as finding a state inspected processing facility, contact the ODA Division of Meat Inspection. Their web site address is: http://www.agri.ohio.gov/divs/meat/meat-index.aspx. They can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at: 614-728-6260.
In the case of poultry, there are some other options. To begin with, any poultry owner can grow (raise from chicks) and slaughter up to 1000 birds that are slaughtered on the farm and sold from the farm without any inspection required. To sell more than 1000 birds and/or to sell off the farm to a public market then there are two options; either use a fully inspected state plant just like the red meat regulations, or there is a grower/processor provision that can be used. The grower/processor provision allows up to 20,000 birds annually to be sold direct to public consumers or hotels, restaurants and institutions. The keys are that the birds must be raised from chicks, grown and slaughtered in an on-farm processing facility. The ODA will work with the farmer to develop a basic processing facility that meets specified conditions, but that is not inspected during every slaughter date/occasion.
After livestock are processed at an inspected facility the sale of that meat product may fall under the county Health Department provision requiring a retail license depending upon how that meat is sold. If the meat is brought home and sold out of the home freezer to customers at the door, no retail license is required. If however, that meat is transported to a public market such as a farm market at the end of the farm lane, or to a farmers market or to any other public venue, then a retail license is required. In order to sell a fully inspected meat product to the public in these situations either a mobile retail food establishment or a temporary food license must be obtained from the county Health Department.
The mobile retail food establishment license is good for one year and the cost is determined by the local Health Department, thus the cost can and does vary from county to county. As of April of 2011, the cost for this license in Athens County is $153. The requirement for meat sales is that meat must remain frozen. Options to keep meat frozen when selling at a public venue include use of a freezer connected to a power source, a freezer or cooler that maintains temperature using dry ice, or a cooler with ice packs. Each health department may have regulations on what they require to keep meat frozen. In Athens County the health department has been very good about working with farmer’s market vendors and allowing coolers with ice packs that maintain a temperature of 41 degrees F or lower. This is allowed recognizing that the period for sales is a limited time period and that vendors must start with a meat product that is frozen. Contact the county Health Department for more information and details.
The temporary food license is also issued by the Health Department and is for one-time events with a duration of five consecutive days or less, so think fairs and festivals. Again the cost is determined by each county health department. In Athens County the cost as of April, 2011 was $50 per event. Once again, the key for meat vendors is that meat must remain frozen over the duration of the transport and selling period.
These are the basics with respect to the regulations regarding direct meat sales to the public. Livestock owners that are considering direct meat sales should begin developing a working relationship with ODA, the owner of an inspected meat facility and the county health department.