Raising animals and processing meats is something humans have done for centuries, but as we learn more about pathogens and new ones evolve, food safety is an ever-increasing priority. In Wisconsin, farmers and processors have worked alongside the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s Meat Safety Inspection Program for 50 years to provide consumers in the state and beyond with delicious and safe meats.
Cedar Road Meats
Three years ago, Marc Malterer bought his parents’ popular Iron Ridge meat processing facility and retail storefront, Cedar Road Meats. The retail store offers fresh cuts of meat as well as smoked finished products, such as hot dogs, sausage and bacon. It is also known for its commitment to helping customers buy other foods, such as honey and cheese, directly from local producers.
Cedar Road Meats has been evolving since the 1940s, when Marc’s grandparents bought their land in Iron Ridge and began farming. Marc’s parents, Barb and Marvin, raised hogs for many years. After new meat processing standards were put into place in 2004, they saw the need for a state-inspected meat processing facility in their region. The Malterers began processing their own animals, in addition to serving other local producers.
“It was a win for all the local farmers in that area when Cedar Road Meats opened,” says Cindy Klug, director of the Wisconsin Bureau of Meat and Poultry Businesses. “Producers succeed through these state-inspected plants. Of the 27 states with meat safety inspection programs, Wisconsin has the most inspected facilities – 96 that process red meat and three that process poultry.”
Balancing Regulation and Education
Wisconsin’s Meat Safety Inspection Program began in September 1968, and has made locally produced meats easily accessible across the state.
“We work with the plant owners to help them meet standards and strengthen their food safety systems, so they can provide the producer with services they need to serve the local consumer,” Klug says.
In addition to inspecting and regulating facilities, the Meat Safety Inspection Program provides outreach to help producers stay ahead of new rules and trends.
“We partner with UW-Extension and the Wisconsin Association of Meat Processors to do trainings for our facilities,” Klug says.
“We explain compliance changes, allergen labeling, and help them ensure their products support the claims made on labels, like organic, all-natural or grass-fed.”
The meat safety inspection program is committed to helping producers and processing facilities succeed because it means more Wisconsin-grown products can get onto the dinner tables of Wisconsin consumers, Klug says.
“We have an extremely committed staff that has mastered the balance between education and regulation,” Klug says. “Sometimes that’s hard, but I’m so proud of this group. They all have a very good understanding of the impact they have on agriculture in our state. We are really lucky to be part of it.”
Cooperative Interstate Shipment Program
When Marc purchased his family’s business, he saw an opportunity to further expand through the cooperative interstate shipment program (CIS), which allows state-inspected facilities to ship across state lines, as federally inspected facilities do.
“I realized to grow, we needed to be able to ship across state lines,” Marc says. “We had five competitors within a 20-mile radius, so I knew being able to do business outside the state would set us apart. The options were to go federal or get CIS approval. So we worked with our inspector to become a CIS facility, and we are now approved to ship out of state. We’ve gotten a lot of new business because of it.”
CIS was passed in the 2008 farm bill. Since then, only four states have implemented the program. Wisconsin has 15 CIS facilities, and five more in the application process.
“It’s a voluntary program that benefits meat and poultry processors,” Klug says. “It gives them the same abilities as federally inspected facilities, but they still continue to work with the state personnel they already know, and they don’t have to start all over with the federal inspection process.”