Beth McKew, DVM, Staff Officer, State Outreach and Technical Assistance Staff, Office of Outreach, Employee Education and Training, Food Safety and Inspection Service
If you don’t work at USDA, you may not have read the 2008 Farm Bill, which means you may not be aware of the many benefits that came out of that legislation. One such provision directed USDA to coordinate technical assistance to small meat and poultry processors. As a result, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), an agency within USDA committed to working with business of all sizes in support of a safe and wholesome food supply, established the Small Plant Help Desk
Small and very small processors make up more than 90% of the nation’s 6,000 federally inspected meat and poultry establishments and all of the 1,900 state inspected plants. These small, independent businesses are often the closest and most convenient way that a farmer or rancher can bring their cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, or goats to market, and they are a critical part of the infrastructure that comprises our nation’s local and regional food systems.
Behind the Help Desk FSIS’ Staff Officers – subject-matter experts with recent in-plant experience – can assess callers’ requests and provide information and guidance materials that best meet their needs. The Help Desk not only provides such callers with step-by-step instructions, but also provides resources to assist them in understanding food safety issues relevant to the products they are producing.
Lucia Huebner from the Traveling Butcher in Hopewell, New Jersey, called the Small Plant Help Desk multiple times in search of help in starting up a federally-inspected mobile slaughter unit. Huebner’s questions ranged from those about specific federal regulations, such as potable water testing, to more general questions, such as how to coordinate her slaughter schedule with the local District Office. A Help Desk Staff Officer was able to answer her questions, put her in touch with district staff in her area, as well as connect her with a network of other small processors who have also faced the challenge of starting up a mobile slaughter unit. Huebner is still in the process of applying for a Federal Grant of Inspection, and plans to call the Help Desk again as questions arise along the way. “The Help Desk has been a fantastic resource for me,” says Huebner. “What a great feeling to know that I have someone to call when I have questions about federal inspection.”
The Help Desk can be reached at 877-374-7435, or 877 FSIS HELP, or by emailing InfoSource@fsis.usda.gov.