USDA Labels at Sugar Mountain Farm On-Farm Butcher Shop


New USDA label for our on-farm Butcher Shop

As previously mentioned we got our license for USDA inspection back on May 1st which means I could then start applying for approval for our various labels and recipes.

The first step in that process was getting our master label approved which has most of the elements including the mandatory features like USDA establishment number, signature line (name, address), safe handling, etc. Additional features on the master label are the drawing of the pig, the Vermont mountains, our web site addresses and membership affiliations.

Once the master label was established I then made up the “Fresh Ham” label as that was immediately needed for one customer who’s been waiting patiently for us to be able to debone and skin hams for them in volume. This allowed us to cut under USDA inspection in the morning and then switch to Vermont State inspected for the rest of our cuts and sausage. This one simple product label was a good test of the system for the first two weeks as we got used to doing the transition between USDA and Vermont state under Dual Jurisdiction which is a special class of inspection that allows us to handle both types of inspection – federal and state.

This weekend, after days of deep label discussions with the local inspectors, I did all the generic cut and plain ground labels – about sixty labels in all. This will let us do the rest of the cuts under USDA this coming week. One more step down the path to full USDA inspection as we transition. As we edged towards this day of all out USDA we’ve been careful not to over print the weekly label count so as to minimize the waste when we transition. Once we’re fully over to USDA Inspection any old Vermont State Inspected labels will get tossed – they cost about 15¢ each so I would rather minimize the waste.

Next will be all our sausages which gets a little more complicated with multiple ingredients and my many formulations. Once I have that all approved and established we’ll be able to begin shipping inter-state to Kickstarter backers and CSA Pre-Buyers who helped with funding the construction of the butcher shop here at Sugar Mountain Farm.

The last label on my desk for FSIS/USDA approval in the transition will be our dry-rub maple uncured bacon. This product does not use the traditional sodium nitrates/nitrites but rather celery salt and is thus technically “uncured” according to the USDA regulations which requires special labeling approval as I described last summer.

I’ve been doing labels for our farm for over a decade starting out with our hot dogs which were made at a smokehouse a bit south of us. In many cases farms or butcher shops hire out the process of the graphics, printing and label approval processing. It is complex but I like doing it myself – it’s part of the process and interesting to do. Doing it myself also gives me more control and a better label at a far lower cost.

I use Adobe Illustrator CS4 and Adobe Photoshop CS4 for the graphics.

Printing was on a pair of Primera LX400 label printers for about a decade and then recently I switched to the faster, and quieter, Primera LX2000 which makes the labels more waterproof and is lower cost on the ink because you replace each ink color separately. By using the label printer our per label cost is lower and we can do all the variations for our different cuts, sausages and other products like corn pork, porchetta, salt pork and dry rub maple uncured bacon. It also means we carry a lower inventory of labels, just what we need week to week whereas with mass-scale traditional printing we would need to order 15,000 labels at a time. This in turn means less waste.

When I first learned to do the labels through FSIS/USDA everything was done by mail. Now they have an electronic submissions system (LSAS) which, after a bit of a learning curve, I think I like despite it’s awkward bureaucratic design. It makes sense for label submissions to be done electronically as the web site software can do a lot of the application checking to make sure the submitter, me, has everything in order before the USDA agents even look at the label application. The first time I submitted a label years ago I had made mistakes which meant it came back to me, weeks later, I then corrected the errors, resubmitted, rinse and repeat for three months. The LSAS system reduces this loop to a few minutes since the software tells me right away where my basic errors are and the new FSIS/USDA label publications have addressed a lot of the topics and questions one has in the process. I’ve heard from inspectors that this significantly speeds up the process – why it was implemented since FSIS was getting overwhelmed by the volume of label submissions.

One more step in our journey of farming, on-farm butchery and USDA inspection…

Outdoors: 37°F/72°F Light Rain, Partially Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 59°F/64°F

Daily Spark: Have you ever opened up your printer after an error message and found paper jam? No, me neither, not even marmalade! Frankly those error messages offering “Paper Jam” are false advertising…

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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3 Responses to USDA Labels at Sugar Mountain Farm On-Farm Butcher Shop

  1. Tom Stewart says:

    That is great information. I just wish the regulations were not so onerous on small producers like you. The regulations are obviously designed to favor the industry and exclude small producers. We all need to get together and change that. I’m not naive, but it can happen if enough people become aware of the issue and demand change.

  2. Jennifer Hege says:

    So great to hear…and gives us hope that we can navigate through this process as well when we open our charcuterie for business in Idaho. Thank you, Walter for being so caring as to share your experiences!

  3. Peter says:

    As someone who has spent not a few years recently working the IT field at an interesting gamut of federal agencies (yes as a contractor), I will say it’s interesting (to say the least) the varying approaches that each has to getting stuff done. Oddly enough they have all been pretty robust and straightforward with not overstuffing the bureaucracy….at least until this current one I’m working with, which to put it kindly, cannot get out of its own way with working its IT issues. Given this agency’s importance, it really should know better.

    I do have to agree with you, there’s a lot to be desired in website design and ease-of-use in government website….but then I have that complaint with a lot of business website too so I don’t think it’s an uncommon problem across the board.

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