Building a Meat Kitchen

September 2, 2010

After more than 10 years of grinding, stuffing, curing, fermenting, drying, and exploring the world of sausage-making, the past few days have been big ones. I began construction on a commercial kitchen which will serve as a USDA inspected production site for fresh sausage, and eventually cured meats. The goal is to make and sell sausage, and that does not happen legally without being blessed by the US Department of Agriculture.

Learning to make good sausage is one thing, but getting the city, county, state, and USDA on the same page regarding what is and is not expected in a facility like the one I’m building is a whole new experience in this culinary celebration of ambiguity. Well actually, the USDA is not ambiguous at all. The  Code of Federal Regulations spells everything out regarding Animal Products, Food Safety, and Regulatory requirements under Federal Meat Inspection. There are a lot of rules to be aware of and to follow, but the Feds are a pretty decisive group. Not a lot of small talk or chatter, but so far, I’ve gotten helpful, succinct, and specific answers to all of my questions about making safe meat and building an acceptable kitchen.

Every jurisdiction has its own role to play in monitoring and regulating commercial food production. It looks a bit like this:

  • The city of Seattle  has responsibility for building permits and zoning. Are you even allowed to build the thing you intend to build, and are you allowed to operate the type of business you hope to run?  That’s their  domain.
  • The county is the land of the department of health, plumbing inspections, and all retail-kitchen oversite. If you intend to sell wholesale, than the county backs off with the exception of plumbing expectations. Someone has to keep an eye on what’s being  flushed down the drain, right?
  • The State of Washington…..well, the secretary of state granted me a business license, but so far, I don’t see the State being involved in my work. But as there are so many layers in the story, I’m prepared to be corrected.
  • And finally the trump card….the USDA. Meat can not be sold wholesale to the public for resale purposes unless its production has been inspected by the USDA. Getting the little USDA “bug” (the circular logo identifying a USDA facility number) on your food label is a big deal, and among other things, this involves applying for a grant of federal inspection….which requires lots of stuff: HACCP Plan for each unique type of meat product you plan to sell. Sanitation Operation Plan. And of course, plenty of specific facility expectations which dictate how the construction of the kitchen must proceed.

There are a lot of rules and expectations to be aware of, but I think I have most of the story figured out. Here’s where I am on the project so far.

Entry to the “lab”

Walls are firred out flat and prepped for plastic panels, which are washable.

FRP (fiberglass reinforces plastic) plastic panels are attached to the walls. Its going to be a bright white room. My newly acquired 3-compartment sink is in place for the plumbing rough-in. That’s 109″ of sink in the picture. Pretty damned large.

Plumbing rough-in is complete. Water, drains, and vents are in place and ready to be connected to the equipment.

Next week, it is onto electrical work in the room. Then, the plumbers come back to connect everything and make the room functional, and get inspected by the county department of health.

As I said, things are moving quickly. It will be good to get through the next few weeks, and get closer to making sausage.

Herschel Update: Herschel the prosciutto is 10 months old now. Everything’s looking (and smelling) good. The photo below also shows a curing sheep liver wrapped in a bug net.  It is just about ready to eat, so I’ll try to share some details about that soon.

Welcome to September!