Ohio Meat Inspection

For Ohio grocer Heinen’s Fine Foods, moving into the Chicago market could have meant leaving behind long-time local supplier Lou’s Sausage. However, thanks to a program created by the 2008 Farm Bill and a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), the popular sausage brand can now be sold outside the Buckeye State.

“It was a great marriage between the state and federal government for us,” says Joe Vinciguerra, who co-owns Lou’s Sausage with his brother Frank.

Their father Lou opened the business in 1954 and was serving grocery chains like Heinen’s from the beginning, but only in Ohio.

The federal government regulates interstate commerce and sausage falls into that category.

For small businesses like Lou’s, federal inspections can be arduous and time-consuming, so the ODA worked with the USDA to bring the state inspection program, already considered equal to the federal program, in-line with the same regulatory requirements as those established by USDA.

The agreement specifically targets businesses with 25 or fewer employees, like Lou’s in Cleveland and five other businesses now shipping across state lines due to acceptance into the program. By the end of 2015 the ODA estimates 15 plants will be enrolled.

“These businesses have a new revenue stream they didn’t have access to in the past. It’s a good program,” says Dr. Michael Hockman, chief of ODA’s Meat Inspection Division. “We spent a lot of time here in the office with staff jumping through the many hoops to get this up and running. The lab component was a monumental undertaking to meet the requirements of the USD A, but it was worth it to help our small businesses.”

Three states have entered into the agreement with USDA, Ohio being the first.

Lou’s Sausage passed all the criteria set down by the state and federal government with flying colors and the plant was cleared to ship across state lines.

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“We would not have had the Heinen’s account in Chicago and may have lost our Ohio account if Heinen’s wanted the same producer in all their stores,” Vinciguerra says.

Since then other doors have opened for Lou’s. Vinciguerra has received calls expressing interest in his product from Key Largo, St. Louis and elsewhere. He’s also heard from former residents of Ohio who want him to ship a taste from their home state to their residences around the country. Meanwhile, Heinen’s is considering expanding into the Michigan area.

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