The Basics of Meat Processing

If you are a farmer interested in selling packaged meat and poultry products you need to obtain your meat handlers registration (see the relevant section below) and slaughter must take at a state or federally inspected facility. 

State and federally inspected processing plants follow the same guidelines to ensure that meat is wholesome and safe for consumption.  In NC, a USDA inspected facility allows the products it processes to be sold across state lines. If you get your meat processed in a NCDA inspected facility, you can only sell the product in NC. 

  • How do I know if my processing facility falls under state or federal inspection? 
    • If your meat is being processed for resale, the plant will either fall under USDA (federal jurisdiction), NCDA&CS (state jurisdiction), or Talmadge-Aiken (USDA jurisdiction, but the inspectors are state employees). If you are unsure what jurisdiction your processing facility falls under, contact your processor directly. Alternately, use the NCDA MPID State Plants List, the TA Plants list, and the USDA list and press Ctrl F to search for your plant according to their inspection. The state or federal inspection seal will also be printed on your finished meat and/or poultry product.
  • Can I slaughter my animals myself?
    • Yes, BUT ONLY as long as the meat is for your family’s own personal use or the use of non-paying guests.  There are specific rules and guidelines that need to be followed in order to process and sell your own poultry. 
  • Can I sell a live animal to a customer and slaughter “their animal” myself as a service on my farm?
    • No! If you do this, you are in violation of state and federal meat inspection laws. It can also put your farm and livelihood in jeopardy. 
  • Can I sell a live animal off the farm and allow the customer to slaughter “their animal” on my farm?
    • No! You are in violation of state and federal meat inspection laws if you do not use an inspected slaughter facility. Have the animal leave your property alive. 
  • Can I sell a live animal off the farm and allow the customer to take that animal to a custom-exempt facility for processing?
    • Yes, BUT ONLY if that meat is for the customer’s home-use.  Custom-exempt plants do not allow sales of meat, so the customer (not the farmer) must own the animal and arrange slaughter and pick-up with the plant operator.  
  • Can I get my animal slaughtered under inspection at a state or federal facility and then cut and package that meat in a NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) establishment such as a retail store?
    • Yes, according to MPID Notice 2-18 dated 11-7-18, This means, retail stores, permitted as a Food Service Establishments by the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), may produce meat and poultry products at that location, package them, transport and sell them directly to the end consumer in other locations, provided the meat and poultry products remain under their control. See notice for more details.

Your Meat Handler’s Registration

  • Do I need one? How do I get one?
    • Yes, if you want to be involved in a local meat business of any sort. 
    • Visit the NCDA&CS Meat and Poultry Division for more information on getting an NCDA MPID or call 919.707.3180.
  • What questions should I ask before I speak with an MPID representative?
    • What will they be looking for when they arrive?
    • Do they want you to have your own meats in the freezer to inspect?
    • How long will their visit last?
    • Do they need directions to the farm?
    • If your meats are stored off-farm, do they still want to meet you at the farm?
  • What will the MPID representative look for when he/she comes to my farm?
    • They will likely want to see your freezers (with meat in them).
    • They will inspect the labels for accuracy.
    • They will look to make sure the storage area is clean and there are no rodent or pest issues.
    • They will also likely ask you how you transport your meats to/from the processor and to/from the farm.
  • Does it cost any money?
    • No, there is no fee for obtaining a meat handlers registration and the on-farm visit.

Packaging and Labels

    • Do all my meats need to be labeled?
      • Yes. All meats must be properly packaged and labeled. You must use the official product name by USDA. 
    • What information do the labels need? 
      • The contents of the package (name of the product, eg. lamb chops, ground beef, pork sausage, etc)
      • If the contents have other ingredients (like spices in sausage), they must be listed (eg. ground pork, salt, red pepper, sage, and black pepper)
      • Safe handling instructions with processing plant number
      • The net weight of the package
      • The name and address of the processing plant, or if the name and address are other than the producer, it must be qualified by a statement identifying the person or firm associated with the product (eg. Packed for _____ or Distributed by _____)
    • Verify that all your product is properly labeled before you leave the processing facility; otherwise you will not be able to sell it. You may not alter labels in any way, nor add any additional labels. Price and UPC stickers may be added by the retailer or vender. 
    • Can I label my meats myself at my farm?
      • No. All required labeling must be done at the processor. You may not change the original label or add any other labels to the meat, which could be viewed as a misrepresentation of the product once it has left the processor. 
      • You can add your farm name, contact information and sale price as long as it is applied separately from and does not obscure the original label. 
    • What about a custom or color label?
      • This is a question you need to ask your processor. 
    • Does the processor supply the labels for me or do I supply them? How can I get my farm name on the labels?
      • Ask your process if they are able to print labels with your farm name and logo on it. 
      • Make sure the ink is resistant to moisture and that the label can stick to a frozen surface. 
      • Be sure that the labels have been approved either by the state meat inspection office or the USDA meat inspection office before ordering labels. 
    • What’s the process for adding label claims like “Pasture Raised”, “Grass Fed”, “No Added Hormones”, etc to my meat and/or poultry products?
      • Under normal circumstances, expect a 6-10 week turnaround on the application process for these added claims. They are in addition to the required standard product information labels on all products.
      • Farmers who raise, slaughter, and process poultry under an on-farm poultry exemption are not allowed to put these claims on their exempt poultry products because slaughter is occurring on their own farm rather than in state- or federally-inspected facilities. 
      • For details on how to submit a production or breed label claim, view Special Claims and the Approval Process for Niche Meat Production
    • What if I am an exempt-operator processing on-farm?

Note of Disclaimer: All efforts were made to provide accurate and precise information pertaining to the laws and regulations surrounding the sale and processing of poultry and of red meats in NC. Due to the changing nature of the regulatory system, it is important to verify the accuracy of these statements with the responsible regulatory agency, NC Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry Inspection Division.