What you should know about selling beef at a Farmers Market
By Lynn Gordon and Keith Underwood – June 2013
It’s the time of the year when farmers markets start sprouting up in communities around South Dakota and residents are able to purchase local goods and fresh items as they come in season. Farmers markets provide a good opportunity for South Dakota producers to market their products directly to the consumer. However, there are some key guidelines that beef producers must follow before selling their products.
Producers selling beef directly from their farm through a site such as a local farmers market need to be in compliance with a number of regulations. Meat processing in the U.S. is regulated by the Federal Meat Inspection Act and compliance is conducted by the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS). According to USDA FSIS regulations, meat sold direct to consumers at farmers markets must be processed at either a USDA or state inspected plant and can be sold by carcass (or half, quarter, etc.,) or as individual retail cuts. Products from state inspected plants cannot be sold outside of state in which it was processed.
Meat that is USDA or state inspected and sold at farmers markets must follow important labeling guidelines. The mark of inspection must appear on the label of every package of meat. Meat must remain in the original package and not be processed, resorted, re-handled or separated into smaller units. For example, a ten pound package of ground beef cannot be later broken into smaller packages for re-sale. In addition to the USDA inspection mark, labels must include the common name of the product (species, wholesale and retail cut name e.g. ribeye steak); net weight, date package; name and address of the processor and safe handling instructions. Product labels for beef processed at a state inspection facility are property of the inspection facility and must be approved by the South Dakota Animal Industry Board prior to the product being labeled and sold; this includes marketing claims which must be pre-approved on the labels. Labels for packages from a federally inspected plant are approved by USDA.
As you prepare to sell your products at a farmers market, you will also want to remember some practices to ensure the safety and quality of your product. Most meats are sold as frozen food products and should be maintained as solid frozen products at temperatures of 20°F or below. If you are selling your product fresh, it should be refrigerated at temperatures of less than 40°F. It is difficult to display meat because of the need to maintain the correct temperature and storage requirements. Often at farmers markets consumers want to see the product, however this can compromise the quality and integrity of the meat to have consumers looking through the packages. Good signage and photos will help to show customers your products and give you the opportunity to describe the products. Another point to remember is to clearly indicate the pricing based on the package size and product you have for sale. For example you may have ribeye steaks packaged in different weight categories than your sirloin steaks so clearly indicate on signage your package size and pricing and this will prevent the need for buyers to sort through the items.
In preparation for the summer markets, be sure to visit with the manager of your local farmers markets. In addition, some markets have specific guidelines or rules vendors must adhere to and these can vary from market to market such as insurance, food permits, or vendor membership. It is good to know and understand these issues prior to selling your products.