The New Year should be a busy year for small and mid-sized meat processors. After two years of meteoric growth and an influx of state and federal dollars to help strengthen the U.S. meat supply chain, there are numerous processors who have big plans for the coming year or two. Companies are looking to expand their facilities, acquire new machines and pursue new market opportunities.

The expansion is the flashy aspect of growth. Bringing in a new packaging machine or a smokehouse, or adding on 10,000 square feet to a plant is a noteworthy accomplishment and is worthy of some attention. It’s a sign to your customers, your employees and the industry in general that your business is strong and successful, and you have to grow to accommodate your expanding operations. However – and I’m paraphrasing the late, lamented Uncle Ben of Spiderman fame – with great growth comes great responsibility.

Adding in new equipment or altering your production process can be a great thing, but it’s important to remember that your food safety protocols have to change as well. You will need to update your HACCP plans and make sure that your employees are incorporating your new capital investments without deviating from your food safety programs. For instance, if your change your smokehouse to one that has pass-through capabilities, your employees need to remember that raw product goes in the front, and cooked product goes out the back. You can’t just pull the cooked product through the same door that you push in raw products anymore.

It’s also worth noting that some of the grants that are available come with the expectation that your state-inspected or custom plant will become federally inspected. If that happens, your entire operation may need to change. You may have been producing safe meat items under state inspection for years. However, if you go federal, some of your old practices or older equipment may not be acceptable any longer. It may be worth your time to bring in industry consultants to see what you will have to do to comply with federal inspection regulations. You may find that a change in inspection may require you to make further modifications to your facility. Some of those changes may have nothing to do with the latest additions, either.

Your expectations for 2022 may include a larger plant or new equipment. Just remember that regardless of the changes in your plant, you must always keep the big picture of food safety in mind.

Sam Gazdziak