Typically meat plants are exempt from FDA regulations; however, under certain conditions some meat plants will need to comply with parts of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). FDA defines a small meat plant as a facility with fewer than 500 employees. FSMA is the most sweeping reform of FDA food safety laws in more than 70 years. It was signed into law on January 4, 2011. FSMA has many parts and the new rules include:

Small meat processors who sell wholesale can be regulated by either their state Department of Agriculture (in participating states), or by the USDA:FSIS. FSIS inspected plants can ship across state lines, while state-inspected meat can only be sold within the state where it was inspected.

Small retail-exempt meat processors who sell at their own retail locations are regulated by their local health inspectors under their local Food Code.

Note: Retail and certain other facilities are exempt from FSMA.

If you operate a meat processing plant the only piece of FSMA that will affect you is your supply chain.

  • You will need to assess whether all your non-meat food suppliers are FDA-  inspected and compliant.
  • If you import items that are covered by the Foreign Supplier Verification Program, those items need to be in compliance. Keep in mind that this only affects you if you are the consignee (the person who is actually bringing the food into the country).
  • If you run a meat processing plant all supplies — food, including meat and packaging — must come in under the Sanitary Transport rules.

All distribution companies, including USDA establishments, will need to conform to the FDA’s Sanitary Transport rule. The Sanitary Transport rule establishes requirements for:

Vehicles and transportation equipment: The design and maintenance of vehicles and transportation equipment must be designed to ensure that it does not cause the food that it transports to become unsafe.

Transportation operations: The measures taken during transportation to ensure food safety.

Training: Training of carrier personnel in sanitary transportation practices and documentation of the training.

Records: Maintenance of records of written procedures and training.

The best thing that small meat companies can do to plan ahead is to look at what comes into the plant and talk to any non-meat suppliers to understand their plans to become FSMA compliant.

If a small meat company owns its distribution system, they should begin by reading the Sanitary Transportation part of the rule to assess their compliance: http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA/ucm383763.htm

If a small meat company uses imported foods such as fruits, vegetables, salts, spices, dairy products, etc., they should begin by reading the Foreign Supplier Verification Program and assessing what their suppliers need to do to be compliant: http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA/ucm361902.htm

Remember: Regulations are frequently updated. Before making any business decisions make sure you know the current status of FSMA requirements. A good website to check is www.FDA.gov/FSMA.

Reference for this article: Food Safety Modernization Act: How Might it Apply to Meat Processors? Prepared by Dr. Michele Pfannenstiel of Dirigo Food Safety in collaboration with North Carolina Choices and Niche Meat Processors Assistance Network (NMPAN). Available at http://bit.ly/ipfsma.