|A well designed label that meets labeling regulations.|
By Diane Schivera, M.A.T.
Labeling of meat and poultry products, including eggs, does not have to be difficult if you follow the directions and the process carefully. Always start with a mock-up of your label for the submittal process. Don’t have it printed until it has been approved. Approval can take time; figure on at least two weeks, but it could take six weeks if problems arise.
This article relates to labeling red meat products processed under inspection and poultry products processed under inspection or under one of the state poultry exemption programs. It does not include meat that is processed under red meat or poultry custom exemption, which is marked by the processor as not for sale.
The initial decision for processing meat products will depend on where you want to sell them. If you want the option of selling your meat or poultry products outside of Maine, including through internet sales, your animals will need to be slaughtered and processed in a facility that has a federal grant of inspection issued by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (MDACF) also has a Meat and Poultry Inspection Program (MMPI). While the state program must be “equal to” the standards of the federal inspection program, a prohibition limits the sale of meat and poultry products from the state program to intrastate sales.
If you choose to have your animals processed at a federally inspected facility, you will need to work with plant management. The plant then will apply for approval for the private label you designed, or you may use the plant’s labels that are already approved by FSIS. Depending on the information provided on the label, the plant may be able to approve the label generically, speeding up the process. If the label cannot be approved generically because of special claims (e.g., grassfed, pasture-raised, organic, etc.), the plant must then submit the label application to FSIS for approval; that approval may take several weeks. To better understand the labeling process, start by contacting plant management and obtain information on how to contact the FSIS inspector assigned to the plant. The inspector can answer your questions and guide you through the label approval process. To get an initial idea of labeling requirements, see “Basics of Labeling” at the USDA FSIS page.
If you are taking your animal for processing at a state-inspected facility, the MDACF MMPI has simplified the label approval process and will help you through it. While the application for label approval is the responsibility of the state plant, MMPI has sped up the label approval process for both the plant and animal owner by following these steps:
- Make initial contact with the state establishment management and advise it of your plans to develop a private label;
- Make initial contact with Randy Trahan of MMPI (207-287-4437), who can answer your questions regarding the state label approval process and take your information for the label application;
- Contact the label printer, to whom the state establishment has given approval to print labels. Develop a sketch label for approval and have the printer e-mail the actual-size label in PDF format to Trahan ([email protected]) for review;
- Contact the state establishment and have it submit any sub-labels to be used with your sketch label to Trahan for final approval;
- When MMPI completes the label approval process, the printer is notified. Approved labels are shipped directly to the state establishment, which is the custodian.
The majority of state establishments work with Grower’s Discount Labels, which will work with you on the mockup of your label and then send it to MMPI for approval or adjustment.
Once your label is assembled, certified organic growers have to submit it to their specialist at MOFGA Certification Services (MCS) for approval. Do this at the same time as submitting it to the MMPI, to speed up the process. It is important to get an actual letter, not part of an email, to submit to MMPI to communicate your approval from MCS. More information is available in “The How and Why of MCS Product Label Review” in the spring 2016 issue of The Organic Sprout.
One key bit of information regards the statement “Certified Organic by MOFGA”: It must be underneath the name of the producer or distributor of the product. This does not mean off to the side of the producer information; it means underneath.
Since the Maine State Inspection program must equal or exceed USDA regulations, these items must be included on the label for either type of processing plant: mark of inspection from the processor; species of product; lot number if you are using one; handling statement, e.g., Keep refrigerated, or May be frozen; net weight statement; product name or fabricated cut; ingredient statement (if more that one ingredient); address line; qualifying statement (identifying the processor); nutrition facts (on the label or as a handout) are available here; special claims, including certified organic or grassfed; and safe handling instructions, e.g., Keep refrigerated or frozen; Thaw in refrigerator or microwave; Keep raw meat and poultry separate from other foods; Wash working surfaces including cutting boards, utensils, and hands after touching raw meat or poultry; Cook thoroughly; Keep hot foods hot. For more information, see “Safe Handling Label Text,” USDA FSIS.
Labeling Organic Eggs
The Maine Department of Agriculture requires that eggs offered for retail sale be labeled with
(a) the name and address of the person or persons responsible for packing
(b) Certified Organic by [certifier], if they are certified organic. Note: This must be directly under the contact information.
(c) the grade; Eggs for sale must meet a minimum grade of B.
(f) safe handling instructions (“Keep Refrigerated at 45 degrees F or less.”)
If you put eggs in used cartons, you must obliterate any USDA shield and obliterate grade declarations and replace them with a “B,” and then affix your label.
For more, see “Selling Eggs? Know the Regs” in the winter 2010/2011 issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.
I recently joined the board of the Knox-Lincoln Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD). It is interesting to see how this organization functions. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that the conservation districts organize and advertise the county meetings for Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) working groups. These meetings are important for any farmers interested in getting funding from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) or other NRCS programs. During these meetings, the working groups begin to decide how money available is allocated to NRCS programs, e.g., to hoophouses, manure pits, etc. After all the county meetings are held, NRCS holds a technical committee meeting to evaluate the county comments and decide on statewide spending.
The local working groups generally happen in late fall or early winter. Watch local newspapers for the announcement or contact your local SWCD to find out when the meeting will be held, and then attend. Even better, get involved: Contact your SWCD, get on its mailing list, attend the annual meeting, offer to serve on the board. Farmers are needed!
Thanks to Randy Trahan of MDACF, Abby Sadauckas of Apple Creek Farm and Land for Good, and Katy Green of MCS for their guidance with the content of this article.
Diane is MOFGA’s organic livestock specialist. You can contact her at 568-4142 or [email protected].