All packaging materials in direct contact with food must be safe for their intended use under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). Meat and poultry products may not be packaged in a container that is composed of any substances that may adulterate the contents or be injurious to health. (In other words, garbage bags cannot be used.) Only FDA approved food grade packaging is allowed. It is the farmer’s responsibility to see that approved packing materials are used.

Proper wrapping and rapid freezing contribute to a longer lasting quality product. The goal is to prevent moisture loss from the meat (freezer burn) and keep air out. Packaging options for meat cuts include: Freezer paper, tray wraps, plastic wraps, barrier films and meat trays, and shrink bags, which are not vacuumed, are acceptable. Cryovac packaging (also known as reduced oxygen packaging), is allowed if certain conditions are met. (See below)

Vacuum Packaging

Vacuum packaging reduces the amount of air from a package and hermetically seals the package so that a near-perfect vacuum remains inside. This is also known as modified atmospheric packaging. Only USDA processors and 20-c retail food-stores are licensed to vac-pac. Any facility in New York that is using reduced oxygen packaging must have a HACCP plan in place for this activity.

FDA and Nitrate Usage

Many preservatives are regulated under the Food Additives Amendment, added to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1958. The amendment strengthened the law to ensure the safety of all new ingredients that manufacturers add to foods. Under these rules, a food manufacturer must get FDA approval before using a new preservative, or before using a previously approved preservative in a new way or in a different amount. Food law says preservatives must be listed by their common or usual names on ingredient labels of all foods that contain them.

Manufacturers add preservatives mostly to prevent spoilage during the time it takes to transport foods over long distances to stores. Without such preservatives, food safety problems would get out of hand.

Preservatives serve as either antimicrobials or antioxidants—or both. As antimicrobials, they prevent the growth of molds, yeasts, and bacteria. As antioxidants, they keep foods from becoming rancid, browning, or developing black spots. Rancid foods may not make a person sick, but they smell and taste bad. Antioxidants suppress the reaction that occurs when foods combine with oxygen in the presence of light, heat, and some metals. Antioxidants also minimize the damage to some essential amino acids—the building blocks of proteins—and the loss of some vitamins.

Preservatives may not be used to deceive a consumer by changing the food to make it appear other than what it is. For example, preservatives that contain sulfites are prohibited on meats because they restore the red color, giving meat a false appearance of freshness. The food additive regulations require the preservative to be of food grade and be prepared and handled as a food ingredient. The quantity added to food must not exceed the amount needed to achieve the manufacturer’s intended effect.

Regulations about the use of nitrites demonstrate the scrutiny given to the use of additives. Nitrites, are used in combination with salt, and serve as antimicrobials in meat to inhibit the growth of bacterial spores that cause botulism, a deadly food-borne illness. Nitrites are also used as preservatives, for flavoring and fixing color in a number of red meat, poultry, and fish products.

Since the original approvals were granted for specific uses of sodium nitrite, safety concerns have arisen. Nitrite salts can react with certain amines (derivatives of ammonia) in food to produce nitrosamines, many of which are known to cause cancer. A food manufacturer wanting to use sodium nitrites must show that nitrosamines will not form in hazardous amounts in the product under the additive’s intended conditions of use. In addition, other antioxidants, such as sodium ascorbate or sodium erythorbate, may be added to inhibit the formation of nitrosamines.

Sodium nitrite and nitrate are listed as approved prior-sanctioned food ingredients in FDA’s regulations based on their documented use for curing meat. This determination was made prior to 1958 where “meat” was defined as being from cattle, sheep, swine, goats, and equines. Because exotic or game species were not included in the definition, nitrites and nitrates cannot be used to manufacture products prepared only from non-amenable species. If a product made from non-amenable meat were to include more than 2% of a listed species (for example 2% pork fat) from an inspected and approved source, then the use of nitrites/nitrates would be allowed for that product and it would be required to be manufactured under an inspected process.

Sausages, Smoked Meats and Dried Meats

Fresh Sausages

A fresh sausage is lean ground meat combined with fat or lard or other binding agent and seasonings such as herbs and spices. Fresh sausage can be packed in bulk, formed into patties, or put into a casing and sold as links. Fresh sausage must be kept under refrigeration and cooked before being eaten.

Fresh red meat sausage may be prepared at a USDA inspected facility or at a 20-C licensed commercial kitchen. Fresh game and poultry sausage may be prepared at a USDA inspected facility, at a 5-A facility or at a 20-C commercial kitchen.

Cooked Smoked Sausages

Cooked smoked sausages include products such as hotdogs and bologna. It is advised to keep these products under refrigeration and to thoroughly heat before being eaten.

Fermented Sausages

Fermented Sausages are a class of chopped or ground meat products that, because of microbial fermentation of a sugar, have reached a PH of 5.3 and have undergone a drying/aging process to remove up to 25% of the moisture. These products are typically cured but are not necessarily cooked or smoked. The USDA regulates the moisture-to-protein ratio but does not formally define semi-dry or dry sausages.

Semi-dry sausages such as summer sausage, thuringer, cervelat, and landjaegar have a higher moisture content and should be refrigerated. They are generally cooked or smoked prior to sale or consumption. Dry sausages such as pepperoni or salami are generally shelf stable and may be consumed without additional heating.

Below is a partial list of fermented sausages:

  • Alpina Salami: A spicy Italian-style sausage that originated in the US.
  • BC Salami: Beef case Italian-style salami
  • Blockwurst: A semi-dry sausage.
  • Caserta Pepperoni: A southern Italian product generally 75% pork and 25% beef, linked in pairs much like landjaegar.
  • Cervelat: This is a general class of semi-dry sausages, generally Swiss style, and includes Farm style, (summer sausage), Goettinger,  Goteborg, Holsteiner, Landjaegar, and Thuringer.
  • Cacciatore: This is a dry sausage historically prepared with wild game.
  • Calabrese: An Italian Salami highly seasoned with hot peppers.
  • Cotto Salami: This salami is not fermented or acidified, but rather cooked.
  • D’Arles Salami; This is French salami stuffed in hog bungs and corded to show a distinct diamond pattern.
  • Frizzes: A rough chopped, highly seasoned, dry sausage.
  • Genoa Salami: This is primarily pork product that is not smoked, originating from Genoa, Italy.
  • German Salami: This German style salami is heavily smoked, traditionally stuffed into calf bladders and corded with twine.
  • Italian Salami: Regional differences result from the seasonings, stuffings and cording designs.
  • Lola and Lolita: Dry garlic-seasoned sausage of Swiss origin. Lola is roughly one pound, and Lolita is two and a half pounds.
  • Lombardia Salami: This salami has higher fat content and incorporates brandy into the recipe.
  • Milano Salami: This sausage has an intricate cording pattern.
  • Lyons Sausage: This is a French style using pork and pork fat seasoned with garlic.
  • Metz Sausage: Made with beef, pork, and bacon.
  • Pepperoni: This class of sausage must be treated and certified Trichina Free. Generally, it is not smoked or cooked.
  • Salami: There are hundreds of types of salamis, usually made from pork and seasoned with garlic. Extenders and binders are permitted, and the product may or may not be cooked.
  • Sopressata: A fermented sausage stuffed into hog casings with a wrinkled appearance.
  • Soudjouk: A dry sausage of Turkish origin. Made from beef, water buffalo, and or mutton, usually containing 10% sheep fat.
  • Summer Sausage: A farmer-style Cervelat, produced in the cooler months for summer eating.
  • Touristenwurst: A semi-dry sausage.
  • Ukrainian Sausage: A dry sausage containing pork and veal chunks, heavily seasoned with garlic, cooked and air-dried.

Smoked Meats and Sausages

Smoking adds desirable color, flavor, and aroma to fresh or fermented meats. Smoking may also a method of preserving meat but it should not be the only method employed, as any disruption to the smoked surface will destroy the preservation. Approved woods for smoking include hickory, oak, apple cherry (and other fruitwoods), mesquite, redwood and even corncobs. Liquid smoke may be substituted for the actual smoking process. Products may be hot smoked or cold smoked. Products are cooked during the early stages of a hot-smoke process. Cold smoking at temperatures below 41°F is generally reserved for hams. Smoked meats should be kept refrigerated and thoroughly cooked before being consumed.

Jerky and Dried Meat

People have made jerky for hundreds of years. Native Americans combined jerky with animal fat to create Pemmican, a product know for it high energy qualities. Early European explorers prepared dried meats such as Charqui or Xarque. Biltong, an African version, was often produced using ostrich meat. Many of these early versions used salts and seasonings as rubs. Today’s jerky is often prepared using marinades instead.

In general, jerky is prepared using lean muscle meats, cut with the grain of the muscle fiber. All visible fat must be removed to prevent rancidity. Jerky has a very low moisture level and may be cured, non-cured, smoked, non-smoked, rubbed, or marinated. Jerky can be made from amenable or non-amenable meat or poultry. Jerky may also be made from ground meat into a jerky-like product known as “formed jerky”.

Kippered meats are similar to jerky but are allowed to have a higher moisture to protein level. Kippered meats are not shelf stable, and may need further heat processing and vacuum packaging to retain product integrity.

Snack sticks are generally made with shredded or ground meat, seasonings, and a cure. The mixture is stuffed into small diameter casings and hot smoked (cooked and dried). Because they may contain fat, they require antioxidants to control rancidity and vacuum packaging to limit oxygen exposure. Their tangy taste is usually attributed to lactic acid (or other organic acids) to help prolong shelf life.

USDA has a quick guide on jerky manufacturing for small and very small plants available at:

Recipe Development and Considerations

Developing a great recipe takes time. Different ingredients, different fermentation, and drying techniques all add to the uniqueness of the end product. Spices, seasonings and other ingredients add additional interest. It helps to understand the sausage process when looking to experiment.

The usual procedure in the making of a sausage is to grind the various meats coarsely and then add the rest of the ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Generally, the other ingredients (spices and seasonings) are first made into a slurry using a small amount of water before being mixed into the ground meat. The product is then ground again to the desired consistency. Small batches (up to 25 pounds) are recommended so the cure and seasoning can be more evenly distributed.


It is not necessary to stuff fresh sausage meat. It can be left in bulk form or made into patties. Most sausage, however, is made by placing the ground ingredients in some type of forming device to give them shape and hold them together for thermal (heat) processing. The casing materials may be natural or manufactured. Natural casings are often the gastrointestinal tracts of cattle, sheep, and hogs. They are digestible and are very permeable to moisture and smoke. Fibrous casings are more suitable for summer sausage and similar products because of their greater strength and the variety of sizes available. They are permeable to smoke and moisture and can easily be removed from the finished product. Collagen casings contain the attributes of both natural and fibrous casings. They have been developed primarily for use in products such as fresh pork sausage and pepperoni sticks. They are uniform in size, relatively strong and easy to handle. These casings also are used for the manufacture of dry sausages, because they are permeable and will shrink. For products that are water-cooked plastic casings impermeable to water are used.

Spice Selection

The success or failure of a value added meat product may be dependent upon the selection and combination of spices and seasonings used. Typical beef spices include: basil, bay leaves, chervil, coriander, cumin, dill, garlic, lovage, marjoram, parsley, sage, savory, shallot, tarragon, and thyme. Spices that compliment lamb include: basil, bay, dill, garlic, mint, marjoram, rosemary, parsley, savory, tarragon, and thyme. Pork is often seasoned with: anise, basil, bay, caraway, coriander, cumin, fennel, garlic, rosemary, sage, and thyme. Poultry seasonings include: basil, bay, burnet, caraway, chervil, chives, cumin, dill, garlic, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, sage, savory, shallots, tarragon, and thyme. Dried fruits such as cranberries, apples apricots, and tomatoes can also be considered. Various chilies, onions, and peppers can also add distinct flavors. Combinations of spices, seasoning and additions provide unique interest and lend to consumer appeal.

It is important for anyone direct marketing meat to determine how much meat a market animal provides. The pounds of meat a farmers should get from an animal will be dependent upon the dressing percentage and the carcass cutting yields. A handy formula has been developed to help:  Pounds of Meat= (Dressing percent x Carcass cutting yield) x Live weight

The dressing percentage is the percent of the live animal that ends up as carcass. Generally, the carcass weight is taken immediately after skinning and evisceration and is commonly known as the hot hanging weight. There are a number of factors that will affect the percentage including how much the animal has eaten before it is weighed, how much mud or fiber is on the animal. These factors negatively correlate to the dressing percentage, by reducing the dressing percentage. The amount of fat and muscling will positively affect dressing percentage, the heavier or fatter an animal, the higher the dressing percentage. The dressing percentage can be calculated as such: Dressing Percentage (DP)= (Carcass Weight / Live Weight) x 100. Different species tend to average different DP’s. Beef cattle average 62%, steers 59%, hogs 74% and market lambs 54%. Farmers can expect a 1000 pound steer to result in a 620 pound hanging carcass or a 140 pound market hog to produce a 103 pound carcass (140 x .74).

The carcass-cutting yield is the percentage of the carcass that actually ends up as meat. The carcass cutting yield is calculated by: ( Pounds of meat/ Carcass weight) x 100. Cutting yields can vary significantly depending upon cutting specifications; cuts that are bone-in or boneless, will produce very different cutting yields. If the animal is excessively fat, then the cutting yield will be lower because the fat is removed and discarded. A more muscular animal will have a higher cutting yield. Aging, leaving the carcass to hang for an extended period of time will also impact cutting yields, as the carcass tends to shrink during the process. Cutting losses on a side of beef may range from 20 to 40 percent, and average around 28%.

Yield grades can help can help predict cutting yields. A yield grade measures the amount of boneless, trimmed retail cut from various parts of the carcass: the round, the loin, the rib and the chuck. The higher the yield grade the higher the carcass cutting yield percentage. A lower yield grade indicates a higher cutting yield. To employ the help of a yield grade to determine the amount of saleable meat lets consider the following example. A yield grade 2 on a 400 pound carcass would indicate saleable meat of 79.8% or 319 pounds of meat. If more cuts were left bone-in, then the actual carcass cutting yield would be higher than 79.8% and the pounds of meat would be higher than 319.

To help a farmer price his product, it is also important to know the average cut weights expected from breaking down a carcass. A 1000 pound steer will produce a 600 pound carcass. 400 pounds are lost in hide, blood, and inedible organs. From this 600 pound beef carcass a farmer should expect around the following: 27.5% chuck, 3.2% shank, 3.8% brisket, 9.8% ribs, 8.5% short plate, 17.7% loin, 5.3% flank, and 22.8% round. He could also expect 425 pounds in retail cuts at a yield grade 3 (70.8%). These figures provide only an approximation, and are to be used as a guide. Farmers should keep good records of dressing percentages and carcass yields to help with farm management and the decision making process.

It is imperative when trying to sell cuts (to a greater extent retail cuts as opposed to wholesale cuts) that both the farmer and his/her customer are in complete understanding of the product. What exactly does the customer want when he says, “I’ll take a steak.”? As a salesperson, the producer must be able to identify the cuts. Standardized industry cutting charts follow on the next few pages. Farmer-marketers should learn them.

It is also beneficial to be able to make recommendations on how to cook the various cuts. Grass fed meats tend to be lean. Proper cooking techniques must be used to ensure tenderness. When in doubt, grass-fed meats should be cooked low, slow, and moist; never allowing them to dry out.

It also helpful to know the which muscle cuts are tender (prime) and which are tough and how to cook each of these. It is easy to remember that the more a muscle is worked, the tougher it is (think about necks, shoulders and shanks). Prime, tender cuts can be, broiled, grilled, roasted, fried or sautéed. The meat should be cooked quickly over a very high heat, then removed and allowed to rest. The high protein/low fat content allows the meat to finish cooking during this rest period. Basting or barding should be practiced when dry roasting. Less tender cuts are an excellent alternative in soups, stews, casseroles and stir-fries where they can be braised, stewed or sautéed to maintain tenderness. Try using broth, wine, fruit or vegetable juice or spring water with a crock-pot, Dutch oven, or covered casserole.

Butchering Step By Step

There are many good resources to help farmers who are butchering livestock and poultry for their own use. This information is outside the scope of this resource guide. Rather we have decided to include here a few good examples of these types of resources available to those interested.

Home Processing of Poultry by Melvin L. Hamre University of Minnesota Extension

Home Slaughtering and Processing of Beef by  Harold R. Hedlick and William C. Shingel Department of Food Science and Nutrition AND Maurice Alexander Department of Animal Husbandry, College of Agriculture

Home Slaughtering and Processing of Pork by Maurice Alexander, Department of Animal Husbandry; and William C. Stringer and Harold B. Hedrick, Department of Food Science and Nutrition, College of Agriculture University of Missouri. Published by Oklahoma State University Distributed Through County Extension Offices No. 3670

A Step-by-Step Guide to Butchering a Lamb Carcass, The Guardian

Cutting Meat, by G. H. Wellington

Industry Cutting Charts

USDA Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications

Fresh Goat Series 11

What Are The Differences Between Inspection & Grading?

The inspection and grading of meat and poultry are two separate programs within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Inspection for wholesomeness is mandatory and is paid for out of tax dollars. Grading for quality is voluntary, and the service is requested and paid for by meat and poultry producers/processors.

After the meat and poultry are inspected for wholesomeness, producers and processors may request to have the products graded for quality by a Federal grader. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service is the agency responsible for grading meat and poultry. Those who request grading must pay for the service. Grading for quality means evaluation of traits related to tenderness, juiciness, and flavor of meat; and, for poultry, a normal shape that is fully fleshed and meaty, and free of defects.

USDA grades are based on nationally uniform Federal standards of quality. So that no matter where or when a consumer purchases graded meat or poultry, it must have met the same grade criteria. The grade is stamped on the carcass or side of beef and is usually not visible on retail cuts. However, retail packages of beef, as well as poultry, will show the grade mark if they have been graded. The grade symbol and wording are no longer copyrighted; however, according to the Truth in Labeling Law, it is illegal to mislead or misrepresent the shield or wording.

USDA Grades for Meat and Poultry

The MGC branch uses university-researched, USDA-developed, and industry recognized standards. Grading determines the quality and yield of carcasses. Quality grades vary depending on the species.


Beef is graded as whole carcasses in two ways:

Quality grades – for tenderness, juiciness, and flavor; and

Yield grades – for the amount of usable lean meat on the carcass. There are eight quality grades for beef. Quality grades are based on the amount of marbling (flecks of fat within the lean), color, and maturity.
Quality Grades:

Veal/ Calf

There are five grades for Veal/Calf: prime, choice, good, standard, and utility. Prime and choice grades are juicier and more flavorful than the lower grades. Because of the young age of the animals, the meat will be a light grayish-pink to light pink, fairly firm and velvety. The bones are small, soft, and quite red. Cuts such as chops can be cooked by the dry-heat method of grilling or broiling.


There are five grades for lamb. Normally only two grades are found at the retail level – prime and choice. Lower grades of lamb and mutton (meat from older sheep) – good, utility, and cull — are seldom marked with the grade. Lamb is produced from animals less than a year old. Since the quality of lamb varies according to the age of the animal, it is advisable to buy lamb that has been USDA graded.

Prime grade – is very high in tenderness, juiciness, and flavor. Its marbling enhances both flavor and juiciness.

Choice grade – has slightly less marbling than prime, but still is of very high quality. Most cuts of prime and choice grade lamb (chops, roasts, shoulder cuts, and leg) are tender and can be cooked by the dry-heat methods (broiling, roasting, or grilling). The less tender cuts – breast, riblets, neck, and shank – can be cooked slowly by the moist-heat method (braising) to make them more tender.


Pork is not graded with USDA quality grades as it is generally produced from young animals that have been bred and fed to produce more uniformly tender meat. Appearance is an important guide in buying fresh pork. Look for cuts with a relatively small amount of fat over the outside and with meat that is firm and grayish pink in color. For best flavor and tenderness, meat should have a small amount of marbling.

Pork’s consistency makes it suitable for a variety of cooking styles. Chops can be prepared by pan-broiling, grilling, baking, braising, or sautéing. Ribs can be braised, roasted, or grilled. Slow cooking yields the most tender and flavorful results. Tenderloins are considered the most tender and tasty cut of pork.


There are no official USDA selection grades for live goats. However, there are USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications (IMPS) selection criteria for live goats and these are used by regional auction barns and livestock buyers and sellers to assign grades to live goats. These grades are based on the meat type conformation of the goat (how well muscled it is) regardless of fat cover. Selection 1 goats should have a pronounced bulging to the outside hind leg, a full, rounded back-strap, and a moderately thick outside shoulder. Selection 2 goats have moderate meat conformation while Selection 3 goats have inferior conformation. Some buyers will also put in a 4th grade for very unhealthy goats. Utility or “cull” goats are goats that are being culled for a serious unsoundness or appear very unthrifty.

USDA Selection Grades for Live Goats

Fat covering does affect the suitability of slaughter goats for different marketing channels. In the example below, both Boer cross-market kids may qualify as Selection 1. However, the lean kid has little or no surplus fat. He may be ideal if he has been cheaper to raise than the plumper kid, and is being sold on-farm or at a live animal market to customers wanting any excess fat trimmed from the carcass that plan to consume the meat shortly after butchering. However, he has two disadvantageous, 1) his dressing percentage and hence his carcass weight would have been better if he had been fattened a few more weeks, and 2) his lean carcass will be somewhat susceptible to cold shock when put in the cooler. Cold shock (contraction or shortening of the muscles) may toughen up the meat. He is not “market ready” if the price paid is based on hanging carcass weight rather than live weight and he is to be slaughtered and chilled at a conventional slaughterhouse for sale to a restaurant chef putting a top priority on tenderness.

More information on evaluating goat carcasses is available in the “Meat Goat Selection, Carcass Evaluation, and Fabrication Guide available through the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center or on the web at .


Rabbit may be graded under the voluntary rabbit-grading program performed by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. It provides a national grading service based on official U.S. classes, standards, and grades for poultry. Rabbit may be graded only if it has been inspected and passed by the FSIS, or inspected and passed by any other inspection system that is acceptable to the USDA, such as State inspection. Consumer grades for rabbits are U.S. Grade A, U.S. Grade B, and U.S. Grade C.


The USDA grades for poultry are A, B, and C.

Grade A is the highest quality and the only grade that is likely to be seen at the retail level. This grade indicates that the poultry products are virtually free from defects such as bruises, discolorations, and feathers. Bone-in products have no broken bones. For whole birds and parts with the skin on, there are no tears in the skin or exposed flesh that could dry out during cooking, and there is a good covering of fat under the skin. In addition, whole birds and parts will be fully fleshed and meaty.

The grade shield for poultry may be found on the following chilled or frozen ready-to-cook poultry products: whole carcasses and parts, as well as roasts, tenderloins, and other boneless and/or skinless poultry products that are being marketed. There are no grade standards for necks, wing tips, tails, giblets, or ground poultry.

Grades B and C poultry are usually used in further-processed products where the poultry meat is cut up, chopped, or ground. If sold at retail, they are usually not grade identified.

Quality Assurances

Quality assurance covers all the activities associated with getting the product to the consumer. From the calf in the womb to the prime rib on the plate, quality assurance involves all associated production, management, and inspection activities.

The goal of a Quality Assurance program is to fulfill or exceed customer expectations. Products should be tested for failure. What is the shelf life of a piece of jerky? At what temperature would a succulent steak be turned into a piece of shoe-leather? Knowing the answers to these questions will help the product from failing, or from the customer failing the product. Statistical analysis may be used to determine the probability of something going wrong. The current sample testing for BSE is one example of employing statistical analysis to test a percentage of animals to provide an extremely high probability of an accurate test of the entire population.

Some quality assurance programs have step-by-step protocols and record keeping requirements. Two examples are Cold Chain Maintenance Programs and Facility Maintenance Programs.

A Quality Assurance Program will include Best Management Practices. Generally, the industry establishes these baseline practices. The owner should also employ practices of due diligence.

Quality Assurance Programs should also include customer service protocol. How will product recalls be handled? How will product be delivered and what will happen to product stuck in transit?

Finally, a quality assurance program must address inventory control. Planning for inventory tracking, inventory turnover, package ID’s, Lot ID’s, storage time and pull dates are all crucial for maintaining high quality products, and thus must be part of the quality assurance program.