The most important thing small meat plant owners and managers need to be concerned with in meat processing is SAFETY. That includes food safety, employee safety and customer safety.

Food Safety During Harvesting

Microbial safety of both your raw and cooked products is important. The harvest of animals for inspected product will be monitored by an inspector. If it is a custom-processed animal, you should visually examine the animal for abnormalities while it is alive and during the harvesting process. If something does not “look right,” you should discuss it with the owner of the animal. During the harvesting process contamination such as dirt, fecal material and hair should be trimmed from the carcass. When you put carcasses in the cooler, make sure the cooler is not overcrowded, preventing the carcasses from properly chilling. If you are harvesting animals under inspection, you will be required to follow the appropriate HACCP Plan. If you are harvesting custom processed animals, you should consider voluntarily following a HACCP Plan to document the animal was properly harvested.

Food Safety During Processing

When processing both raw and processed products under inspection you must follow the appropriate HACCP Plan; I feel you should also voluntarily do this for custom processed product. Following HACCP SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) and SSOPs (Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures) will help assure that you produce products that are safe. You must make sure products are properly packaged and labeled. Improperly labeled product involving an allergen is a serious issue and can result in product recalls. A product recall can seriously hurt a company’s reputation.

After packaging and labeling, your products should be properly refrigerated or frozen. From the time the live animal enters your plant until the finished products leave your plant, each step must be properly executed and documented. One weak link can cause the whole system to fail.

Employee Safety

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, employee safety is a major issue. All employees must wear face masks when appropriate and practice social distancing. If a company has an outbreak of COVID-19 among its employees, it can result in the company having to shut down. 

You should also make sure chemicals, pesticides, paints, lubricants, etc. are properly used. Improper use of these items can represent a hazard to both employees and customers. Improperly maintained equipment can also become a hazard.

Customer Safety

During the COVID-19 pandemic you must make sure you provide a safe shopping environment for your customers, and you must expect customers to practice safe procedures. This not only protects them but also protects your employees. You may elect to have contactless pickup or delivery.

Proper processing, packaging, labeling and storage are important parts of customer safety. It is critical that employees understand their role in all aspects of safety and receive training in areas that relate to their job responsibilities. I feel it is important to have weekly company meetings where safety procedures/concerns can be discussed.

Operating a small meat plant can be both an emotionally and financially rewarding experience.

Remember: To reap the rewards of operating a small meat plant, you must pay attention to safety in all aspects of the business. IP