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Navigating Opening CT's only USDA Inspected Poultry Slaughter and Processing Facility

Embarking on a new business path is always accompanied by a mix of excitement and apprehension. As we stepped into the world of USDA-Inspected poultry slaughter and processing, I couldn't help but feel a blend of anticipation and curiosity. Navigating the first week in this new environment was a rollercoaster of experiences, learnings, and insights. In this blog post, I will take you on a journey through my initial day, shedding light on the intricacies of USDA inspections, the importance of food safety, and the dedication required to deliver quality poultry products to consumers while Opening CT's only USDA Inspected Poultry Slaughter and Processing Facility.


The USDA inspection process plays a crucial role in safeguarding public health and ensuring the quality of poultry products. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is made up of 29 agencies and offices with nearly 100,000 employees who serve the American people at more than 4,500 locations across the country and abroad.


Preparation: A Glimpse into the Regulatory Framework

Long before our first day in the poultry slaughter and processing facility, our journey started with extensive planning. Jared the Owner/Operator had to take a HACCP, (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point), course and be certified. A new building had to be built to code and regulations had to be learned. There are a lot of regulations.



Federal Register - The Daily Journal of the US Goverment

Regulations for everything from how you treat the animals, to how many inches a water return pipe can be. A quarter million dollars, and two years of construction later this was all just the tip of the iceberg in our introduction to the regulatory framework, with a particular focus on the role of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in ensuring food safety.



Slaughter Cones Hanging on wall


The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for overseeing and enforcing the regulations governing the slaughter and processing of poultry.

Understanding the intricacies of the inspection process was essential. The FSIS inspectors play a critical role in safeguarding public health by enforcing the standards for poultry safety and wholesomeness. They conduct continuous inspections throughout the facility, from live birds entering the processing area to the final packaging stage.


Before we could even get to an inspector in the building we had to write a HACCP plan, Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point plan, and have it validated by the Front Line Supervisor for the USDA and his team. We spent months reading and discussing regulations and writing SOPs, (Standard Operating Procedures). The first draft took 6 months. These SOPs, (Standard Operating Procedures), had to be specific to our facility and covered everything from Good Commercial Practices, Sanitation, Employee Hygiene, and Bio-Security just to name a few.


There is a reason that under USDA-FSIS wholesome product is good not only for your kitchen table but to sell anywhere in the country and the world. You probably recognize the bug, (that's what they call the little symbol on the label). The inspection service is so regulated that 2 weeks before we got our approval date the compliance department of the USDA shows up on the farm. He saw the label on the website and that we weren't registered as a USDA-FSIS facility yet and wanted to make sure we didn't have a product labeled saying otherwise and that we clarified the website to say "coming soon".



USDA bug for Labels, EST. P-1788


Once we had our documentation, building, and website ready we had the Front Line Supervisor and his team out to inspect our paperwork and building. We were ready... or so we thought. The USDA worked with us for over a month then to make changes to our documentation, simplify our checklists, rewrite SOPs to fall in line with regulations, and even some changes to equipment.


The Front Line supervisor submitted his approval, for 90-day validation to begin, at the regional office in PA.


Validation of a HACCP system involves two separate elements 1) design and 2) execution. Under 9 CFR 417.4(a)(1) establishments are required to assemble two types of supporting documentation to demonstrate these elements are met:

1. The scientific or technical support for the HACCP system design (design) - that is the theoretical principles, expert advice from processing authorities, scientific or technical data, peer-reviewed journal articles, pathogen modeling programs, or other information demonstrating that particular process control measures can adequately prevent, reduce, or eliminate specific hazards; and

2. The in-plant validation data (execution) - that is the in-plant observations, measurements, microbiological test results, or other information demonstrating the control measures in the HACCP system can perform as expected within a particular establishment to achieve the intended food safety objective


Now what?


We've booked a slaughter under USDA-FSIS ,

printed checklists,

hired a staff,

and finished plumbing the last piece of equipment.

We have contracted vendors for chemicals, laundry service, rendering, wastewater removal, and even lab work. ☑☑☑☑☑☑


It's Time.


Anticipation: The Night Before

We're up late finalizing labels for the first product, and making sure everything is in place. Restless sleep awaiting the big day. It reminded me of "Did I remember to turn off the stove?" We've all had that moment, you're halfway to your destination and not sure if you did everything you needed to before leaving. Or how about the "Anything that can go wrong, will, and at the worst possible moment."


Beep Beep Beep - 4 am comes early


Day 1 - Behind the Curtain of Regulatory Framework

I don't know what you the reader does for work, but I'll assume you've been to grade school like me. (hold that thought) If you've ever played a sport, gone on a first date, or been in a play you know how we felt that morning. The Inspector showed up 30 min early. Promptness is always appreciated. Inspection begins right on time.


So What Gets inspected?


Everything.


We wrote our documentation, it's our design. In the case of the USDA, the inspector doesn't tell you how to do anything. They validate your process. From start to finish. The regulation comes from the department, a department of the executive branch as its enforcement of bills out of Congress, but that's a whole other blog post.


The Inspector sets the pace, the regulation may set a minimum of required inspected parts of the process but they don't set a maximum. It's day 1 so they ask clarifying questions about everything we do. The Front Line supervisor, the local district veterinarian, and an Inspector are all present. That's 3 government regulatory officials. Rember grade school now? Your first spelling bee, answering the math equation on the blackboard in front of the whole class, show and tell, doing what you know how to do with a regulatory body standing over your shoulder talking about what you're doing while you're doing it reminded me of being told to show my work in second-grade math. 5 + 5 = 10, But how? It's the right answer, isn't it? How did you get to your answer? I just know the answer, but that wouldn't be USDA-FSIS, Food Safety and Inspection Service,


We showed all our work. Showed the science we used in planning to justify the process to get to the required result.


A Wholesome Product, Allowed to affix a label that says We did this, and you can trust that meticulous attention to detail ensured that only safe and high-quality products reached the market.


The inspection process encompasses rigorous checks at every stage of production, from live birds to the final packaged products. There is an emphasis on animal welfare, stringent sanitation, and food safety measures quality control, and impeccable record keeping.


Just like that, the first day is over, and the facility has been cleaned and set for day 2.


Our first customer has picked up their product. Tomorrow we get to do it again. I've barely scratched the surface, if you blinked our short story is already over. There is so much more to write about. Over time we'll share more, there are so many topics that could get their own deep-dive posts. So many stories already, we can tell.


There is always something to do on a farm though, and Steadfast Farms is no different.

As the Boss says, One Checkbox ☑ checked. 5 more to add to the list.


Comment questions and let us know what part of the process interests you the most.

Should we blog about the fabrication of equipment next, or talk about a specific regulation and how it affects the day-to-day, or maybe you'd like to hear about how Dave Mathew's Band ate the first round of USDA-FSIS poultry ever processed on our farm?


Lots more to come, I hope you enjoy the peek into the Regulatory Framework that gets a wholesome juicy, succulent chicken, turkey, quail, and more to your home. So you can enjoy #Birdsyoucanfeaston









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