Meat

Definition: Unprocessed meat from cattle, swine, sheep and goats.

Harvest/Post Harvest: All meat that is sold directly to consumers must be slaughtered and processed in an inspected facility. There are two types of inspection:

  1. Mandatory meat inspection covers domestic (cattle, swine, sheep & goats)
  2. Voluntary meat inspection
    • Game meats (those considered indigenous to North America such as buffalo, bison, elk, deer, antelope, rabbit, reindeer)
    • Exotics (rattlesnake, bear, alligator, New Zealand Red Deer)

Mandatory meat inspection falls under two federal classifications: the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act.  These inspections are regulated by the Federal Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA):

  • Any meat that is packaged for sale must have the USDA stamp (bug) indicating that it was processed in a federally inspected plant.  The dye used to stamp the grade and inspection marks onto a meat carcass is made from a food-grade vegetable dye and is not harmful.
  • The inspection mark is put on carcasses and major cuts. After trimming, the mark might not appear on retail cuts such as roasts and steaks. However, meat that is packaged in an inspected facility will have an inspection mark which identifies the plant on the label.
  • Only federally inspected meat may be sold across state lines.

FSIS inspectors:

  • Examine animals before and after slaughter, preventing diseased animals from entering the food supply and examining carcasses for visible defects that can affect safety and quality;
  • Test for the presence of harmful pathogens and drug and chemical residues;
  • Inspect about 250,000 different processed meat and poultry products (see “other sales considerations” below). These include hams, sausages, soups, stews, pizzas, frozen dinners, and products containing 2% or more cooked poultry or at least 3% raw meat.

In addition to inspecting these products during processing, FSIS evaluates and sets standards for food ingredients, additives, and compounds used to prepare and package meat and poultry products.

Voluntary meat inspection applies to game and exotic species not covered under mandatory inspection:

  • Voluntary inspection is handled under USDA’s  Agricultural Marketing Act. This Act gives the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to take whatever steps are necessary to make the product marketable.
  • The FSIS inspector who is inspecting game or exotic species must have knowledge about that particular species and the carcass must fit available equipment in the plant.
  • Businesses that request voluntary inspection must pay an hourly fee for the service whereas mandatory inspection is funded by tax dollars.

The Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) has a list of all custom slaughter and processing facilities in the state of Colorado under Inspection and Consumer Services, Meat – Custom Processing (List of Colorado Meat Processing Plants). This list shows whether each facility is USDA inspected, if they process wild game only and if they have a mobile unit (that could travel to a farm with appropriate water availability and waste disposal and slaughter on-site. Mobile facilities do not cut and wrap.). The Colorado Department of Agriculture reviews all custom exempt facilities that are not part of federally inspected facilities.  Federally inspected facilities that also conduct custom exempt operations are reviewed by FSIS. Contact the Colorado Department of Agriculture at (303) 867-9200 with questions.

Food Safety: Raw meats qualify as potentially hazardous foods.  Raw meats can harbor foodborne biological hazards including bacteria such as Campylobacter jejuni, Escherichia coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella; viruses such as Norovirus; and parasites such as Trichinella.

Category Food Temperature (ºF) Minimum
Rest Time
Ground Meat & Meat Mixtures Beef, Pork, Veal, or Lamb 160 None
Fresh Beef, Veal, Lamb Steaks, roasts, chops 145 3 minutes
Pork & Ham Fresh pork 145 3 minutes
Fresh ham (raw) 145 3 minutes
Precooked ham (to reheat) 140 None

Most bacterial pathogens will be inactivated with proper cooking; and adequate refrigeration will minimize bacterial growth.  Parasitic infections are commonly associated with undercooked meat products.  Food-contact surfaces and utensils must be cleaned and sanitized in between use for processing raw meat products.  See table below for USDA consumer recommendations for safe minimum cooking temperatures.

Consumer Safe Handling of Cooked Meat Products: Use this chart and a food thermometer to ensure that meat products reach a safe internal temperature. Meat may appear done before reaching a safe minimum temperature. For information regarding retail regulations, please contact your county health department or the Colorado Food Code.

Distribution Method (Expand All | Collapse All)

You are selling your product from your farm or ranch


By the cut: If you are selling processed and packaged meat from animals you own, to customers coming to your farm or ranch, the animals must be slaughtered in a USDA FSIS inspected facility and you will need a Retail Food Establishment License, issued by your county health department.

By the whole animal or portion (halves or quarters) of the animal:
If you are processing an animal for consumption by the owner of the animal, this meat does not require USDA inspection – it is considered custom-exempt, meaning a processor that does not require continuous inspection because they only process meat for the owner of the animal. The meat or poultry cannot be sold and can only be consumed by the following:

  • The owner of the animal
  • The owner’s immediate family
  • Non-paying guests

Custom processed meat and poultry must be labeled with “NOT FOR SALE.”

For more information regarding Custom Processing, visit the Colorado Department of Agriculture Inspection & Consumer Services Division.

You are selling your product at a farmers' market


By the cut: If you are selling processed and packaged meat from animals you own in a farmers’ market, the animals must be slaughtered in a USDA FSIS inspected facility and you will need a Retail Food Establishment License, issued by your county health department.

You are selling your product to a store, restaurant, food cart, K-12 school, university, hospital, or other retail food establishment


By the cut:
If you sell your meat to a hotel, restaurant or institution (HRI), it must come from a federally or state inspected facility but it cannot represent more than 25% of the dollar value of your meat and poultry sales (or the current USDA limit of $56,900 for meat products and $46,700 for poultry). Your meat product does not need to come from a USDA Food Safety Inspection Services (FSIS) inspected facility. These products can include:

  1. traditional raw product (cut-up, sliced, trimmed carcasses, quarters, halves. Product can be frozen, ground and wrapped or re-wrapped
  2. prepared product which is ground, sliced chopped, with or without additives (such as seasonings, spices) IF these products are NOT cured, smoked, cooked or rendered.

If you cure, cook, smoke, render, refine fat or otherwise prepare your meat product (marinate, pump, salt, dry) you may still sell it to household consumers, but you MAY NOT sell it to an HRI without additional inspection from the USDA FSIS. If you prepare a product for resale by another establishment (you sell burritos to someone who will then sell them from a food cart), your meat product must be inspected by USDA FSIS. Contact the Consumer Protection Division of CDPHE at (303) 692-3629 or CPD@state.co.us.

If you are selling meat raised by someone else, you will need a Farm Product Dealers License.

Labeling: All meat products sold to retail and wholesale customers must be labeled. There are up to eight specific requirements for each product label:

1. product name,

2. inspection legend and establishment number,

3. handling statement,

4. net weight statement,

5. ingredients statement,

6. address line,

7. nutrition facts, and

8. safe handling instructions.

The information must appear on specified areas of the label. In designing a label, it is important to understand what information must go where.  The USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) has produced a guide to provide the basic information necessary to devise a label for meat and poultry products and to understand the regulatory process administered by FSIS, A Guide to Federal Food Labeling Requirements for Meat and Poultry Products.

FSIS has additional information that is helpful in formulating a label including:

  • Meat and Poultry Labeling Terms (a glossary of meat and poultry labeling terms);
  • Ingredients Guidance (labeling ingredients guidance and inspection methods to protect consumers from misbranding);
  • Claims Guidance (claims guidance, policies, and inspection methods to protect consumers from economically adulterated meat, poultry, and egg products);
  • Irradiation (information and instructions regarding the irradiation of meat and poultry products in official establishments);
  • Natural or Regenerated Collagen Sausage Casing (final rule requiring that the source of natural sausage casings be disclosed on the product label if the casings are derived from a different type of meat or poultry than the meat or poultry encased in the sausage);
  • Nutrition Labeling Information (nutrition label information and guidance material); and
  • Product Dating (describes which types of foods are dated and how).

Grading: After meat and poultry are inspected for wholesomeness, producers and processors may request to have the products graded for quality by a licensed Federal grader. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service is the agency responsible for grading meat and poultry. Those who request grading must pay for the service. Grading for quality means the evaluation of traits related to tenderness, juiciness, and flavor of meat; and, for poultry, a normal shape that is fully fleshed and meaty and free of defects.

USDA grades are based on nationally uniform Federal standards of quality. No matter where or when a consumer purchases graded meat or poultry, it must have met the same grade criteria. The grade is stamped on the carcass or side of beef and is usually not visible on retail cuts. However, retail packages of beef, as well as poultry, will show the U.S. grade mark if they have been officially graded.  The grade symbol and wording are no longer copyrighted; however, according to the Truth in Labeling Law, it is illegal to mislead or misrepresent the shield or wording. For an explanation of grading protocols, refer to the USDA Grades for Meat and Poultry Fact Sheet.

Sales Tax Liability: General sales tax information.

Weights and Measures: All labels on meat sold at retail must bear an accurate statement of the quantity of the package content in terms of weight. Such a statement must appear on the principal display panel of all containers to be sold at retail intact.  The statement must be in terms of the package (so “net weight” or “net wt.”). See information on the net weight statement required for meat products discussed in A Guide to Federal Food Labeling Requirements for Meat and Poultry Products, Section VII, Net Quantity. For information regarding scales follow the Colorado weights and measures requirements.

Value Added Products: Cured, dehydrated, smoked

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