Processing meat? You may need a variance to be legal

Specialized meat processors need a variance from MDARD. Attend a training May 21, 2013 to learn about the application process.

Adhering to the Michigan Food Law and Federal Drug Administration’s Food Code, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) is requiring that specialized retail meat processors obtain a variance for certain processes. If your establishment is processing meat, and not inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS), you may need to obtain a variance. A variance is a process utilized to allow operations to identify safe practices when making a product or using a process that is considered to be a risk in the Food Code. Specifically, if you process meat that includes a curing agent or vacuum package processed meat you will need to apply for a variance.

The variance is more than just filling out an application and having additional paperwork on the shelf of your office. It is being required to verify that proper food safety procedures are being followed and that the end product is safe for consumption. The variance is based on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) systems approach to food safety. Record keeping, verification and validation will be the biggest change for most processors from what they are currently doing. In most cases, it will not change your day-to-day operation; it will only help document the safe practices most plants are already implementing.

Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) will be required for buildings and facilities, equipment and utensils, practices for personnel, production and process controls, and practices for purchasing meats. These are procedures followed by an establishment to maintain food for human consumption that is not adulterated. Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs) will be required for the facility. Prerequisite programs for HACCP include SSOPs as a general plan for sanitation in a processing plant. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) will be required for producing products containing allergens, curing, cooking, cooling, post-cook step pathogen control in ready-to-eat foods, and reduced oxygen packages or vacuum packaged products. A SOP is a protocol to carry out a specific task. Other components of the variance include a facility layout, process flow diagram, and training plan for employees. Attaining a variance will not automatically allow you to extend shelf-life beyond the standard 14 days. Once you have a variance approved and functioning, you may utilize supporting documentation and testing to allow product to be stored beyond 14 days.

Michigan State University Extension experts will hold a training May 21, 2013 for processors to learn about the variance and May 22, 2013 to receive assistance with the application. Registration for the training is online. A copy of the variance application along with additional resources can be obtained from the MDARD meat processing website. A frequently asked questions section will be added to that site in the near future.