For the last two months, MacFarlane Pheasants has been moving through the USDA certification process. To this point our meat processing plant has been state inspected, and every year it undergoes a third-party audit. USDA certification will allow us to sell our pheasant meat across the world, and it will open up certain clients that demand USDA certification before carrying our meat products.
Because we’ve been state and third-party inspected for years, the most difficult part of the USDA certification process has been waiting. Once we applied for the credentials, we were given a number, and when our number came up, a USDA inspector came to the plant to identify problem areas and areas that had to be brought up to code. Those areas would then need to be fixed before we could continue the process. I’m happy to report that the only thing we needed to fix was to designate an office space for USDA inspectors to complete paperwork when they visit.
After the visit and the office space designation, we then had to modify our existing labels to include the USDA seal. These new labels had to be submitted to USDA for approval. We’ve since heard back that they’ve been approved. What we’re waiting on now is for our packaging plant, Twin City Pack, to have its labels approved. They were also inspected by USDA and had minimal dings. (Their process is taking longer because we’re not their only clients and all their labels have to be updated.) Once USDA approves the labels, another inspector will come to the plant and take a final walk-through.
The biggest pitfall we’ve found in the process is that because the USDA is a government agency, it’s a waiting game. We’d recommend giving it extra time because of the turnaround for inspections and paperwork. Also, we found that submitting hard copies of our labels through the mail was actually faster than submitting them electronically. Finally, it can take some time to ensure that trained USDA personnel are available. In our area, most inspectors are trained for red meat. Proper poultry-trained staff is essential, and that also requires time.
Right now we’re hoping that we’ll have our USDA certification by the beginning of the year. As it is right now, our whole pheasants and pheasant meat products can’t cross the border. Our new certification will make it possible, opening up markets in Canada and Japan. We’re also hoping to open up new relationships with several cruise lines, who demand USDA certification before bringing our pheasants aboard. With our new credentials, MacFarlane Pheasants is broadening its horizons.