URBANA, Ill. – Supply chain and distribution challenges leave producers stranded with animals ready for market but no place to go. Some may consider contract slaughter or home butchery as a way to relieve this pressure. Although producers can slaughter their own animals, this practice carries risks and liabilities, says Hard perimeter wallassistant professor, University of Illinois Department of Animal Science, Meat Science, and Muscle Biology.
The Meat and Poultry Inspection Act exempts producers from inspection requirements when they slaughter their own animal on their own property for their own consumption, Harsh says. The producer must own the animal for at least 30 days before slaughter and cannot sell the meat to anyone.
If the meat is sold, the animals must be slaughtered and processed in a licensed facility under inspection by the Illinois Department of Agriculture or by USDA. This inspection gives consumers confidence that the meat is safe to eat, Harsh says. Meat and poultry products sold must be prepared from meat from an approved source. A state or federal inspection mark on the product guarantees that the product is from an approved source.
Home slaughter should only be carried out by a trained person with experience in humane animal handling and stunning practices, hygienic dressing procedures and meat cuts. University of Illinois Extension has two resources related to Customs and home slaughter.
It is important to ensure that animals are rendered insensitive to pain prior to slaughter by stunning or entering the kill mode effectively and quickly. The American Veterinary Medical Associationit is Guidelines for Humane Slaughter include important considerations and methods.
“Without proper training, setup, equipment and facilities, the risks to personal safety and food security can outweigh the benefits of home slaughtering,” says Harsh. “Outdoor processing can pose food safety risks resulting from excessive temperature and cross-contamination. Improper slaughter procedures and inadequate sanitation can and will pose food safety risks resulting in illness and even death.
Sick, disabled, slaughtered or dead animals must not be slaughtered.
The weather is a primary factor in the decision to carry out a home slaughter. “It’s important to perform dressing procedures during the cooler part of the day with adequate visibility,” says Harsh. “Bacteria grow and multiply easily above 40°F. As a result, home slaughter should only take place when the outside temperature is below 40°F.”
The slaughter and manufacturing process will generate a large amount of product that will need to be refrigerated. On average, a 280 pound pig will generate 135 to 155 pounds of bone-in cuts or 95 to 115 pounds of boneless cuts; a 1200 pound steer can generate 400 to 500 pounds of retail cuts.
“The sooner you can package and freeze produce, the lower the risk potential,” says Harsh. “Because of the time needed to chill larger cuts, freezing is a safer choice than refrigeration.”
Minimize exposure of the carcass to external parasites and pack quickly after slaughter to reduce the risk of contamination.
Cleanliness is vital. Knives and handsaws should be washed frequently, especially when changing from external cut of hide or skin to internal cut to reduce contamination.
Use clean, potable water from a pressurized hose to wash carcasses, tools and equipment. Carcasses should be rinsed starting at the top and working down. It is recommended to boil water to sanitize the knives during the slaughter process.
Soap should be used to wash equipment, tools and hands. “Wash your hands and forearms frequently, between steps, to minimize cross-contamination,” says Harsh. “Dish soap is preferred because of its ability to cut through grease and grease on equipment, tools, and hands.”
Plastic or rubber aprons can help prevent cross-contamination between clothing and carcasses; however, this only reduces the risk of cross-contamination if the aprons are washed frequently during the slaughter process. All tables used must be made of a non-porous material to facilitate cleaning.
Carcasses should be inspected for three main contaminants: faeces, digestive contents and milk. “If observed, any tissue in contact with these contaminants should be cut and discarded,” says Harsh. “These contaminants can harbor pathogenic bacteria that pose serious food safety risks.”
People with weakened immune systems are at risk for foodborne illnesses, as well as pregnant women, children under the age of one, and adults over 50 with underlying illnesses.
“The information provided is intended to present the importance of food safety and associated risks,” says Harsh. “It is not intended to explain the dressing process, nor to promote this activity. Meat processing is complicated, it should not be taken lightly. Those involved need to understand that negligence is not an option with food safety.