Building a Meat Kitchen

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!

27 Responses to Building a Meat Kitchen

  1. Jan Augustin says:

    Cured sheep’s liver, eh? So far most of your descriptions have left me drooling, but not this one. Please do report on it! The build-out is looking good!


    • David says:

      Thanks Jan. I recently received a gift/book called “The Whole Beast: nose to tail eating”, and it included some instructions for cured liver. Then, I was given a LOT of liver by a wonderful sheep farmer. We’ll see….

  2. wrightfood says:

    this is so exciting to see the development going on! Cannot wait to see you finished commercial kitchen!

    Where is the rowing machine now? 🙂

    • David says:

      Thanks Matt. Construction is moving right along. Should be ready to make some product before too long. Amazingly, the erg didn’t have to get moved to make room for the meat lab. Good thing too….that might have been a show-stopper. 🙂

  3. matt says:

    that is good news! we should get together again soon and do some more product tasting! I have some bresaola nearly ready, and a lonzino + pancetta about to go in to dry.

  4. Alison says:

    hi –

    i am in the process of trying to build my own USDA approved kitchen. just wondering if you completed your kitchen or not. i would love to hear more about it!


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  11. gavin says:

    I am in the process of trying to open a charcuterie facility here is los angeles I was wondering if you have any contact information for the usda. thanks

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  14. […] them seemed terribly difficult or expensive to follow,” he explains. Pearlstein took the plunge, converted his garage and received approval from the USDA for his Grant of Federal Inspection to process meat in […]

  15. Gianna lupo says:

    Is there a way to reach David?

  16. David says:

    Gianna – I’ll send you a private note. –David

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  18. Kyu Kim says:

    are you still available? OMG, i’m running into a bump with the chicken product i’m toying with and it’s extremely overwhelming!!!! how is your business going? would love to get some advice and what is all involved.

    • David says:

      Thanks Kyu Kim. What sort of chicken product are you hoping to produce and sell? I see a link to your FB. I’ll follow up there.

  19. Heather says:

    Hi, I found this info and it’s helpful! Do you rent space in your commercial kitchen? I am looking for USDA approved commercial kitchen space to launch a small business. I’m hitting road blocks due to the kitchens I am calling are not USDA certified. I make high quality bone broth and right now, I’m selling to friends and a local store is interested, but I need to get out of my home kitchen and start the process of becoming legal! Because I’m dealing with a meat product, I was told I must use a USDA certified kitchen. If you know of any others, besides your own, please share! ANY leads you can offer will be greatly appreciated!

  20. David says:

    Unfortunately, it isn’t quite as simple as finding and working in a “usda approved kitchen”. To sell a packaged meat product that is ready for resale, you’ll need to get a usda/fsis federal grant of inspection. The approved kitchen is just part of that process. Very achievable, but there is a lengthy checklist that all has to be completed first. I’ll send you a pm, and I’m happy discuss and share a bit more to help you understand the process. Good luck! –David

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