Pack Dates and Labeling
We at the farm understand how confusing food labels can be to consumers. Over-time the commercial food industry has implemented processes and labeling designed more to attract and deceive consumers, instead of inform.
It is important to us to share knowledge about all the processes behind the food we raise, from how our animals live their lives on the farm, to how they are packaged for your freezer - yet as a small business and farm, we are limited with our packaging resources.
We instead rely on conversations with our consumers through in-person interactions at farmers markets, you-tube and social media videos and pictures, as well as on-farm visits. However, to a first-time buyer, the package label is a big part of learning more about the food they purchased.
Our pork, chicken and beef products are processed in USDA facilities and include a detailed label on each package. It first shows our familiar black and white pig logo along with more information about our farm if possible. Our new chicken processor was not set up for our custom label yet, so the 2022 chicken will only include a generic label with our business name and address.
Next, we identify the product name, list ingredients, the weight of the package, the USDA bug (an identifying number tracked back to the processor) and finally include a pack date or lot number.
Pack dates are printed on our frozen pork, chicken and beef. This is the date that our meat was cut and then vacuum-sealed into it’s package. In order to maintain the absolute best quality of meat through transportation back to our farm, we then request our processors to immediately flash-freeze, keeping our product at or below 0 degrees F.
According to the USDA, frozen meat is safe to consume indefinitely when frozen. However, the quality of the meat can diminish overtime if it experiences any breaks in the package or fluctuations of temperature during storage. This is incredibly important for consumers to know in order to help eliminate food waste and to prepare for future feasts.
To personally relate to this, my family eats chicken with good seals from our freezer that is over 2 years old, and never notice any change in quality. We also eat from our loose seal discount freezer, and again rarely experience any change in quality. The only time I notice a change is when the package is not sealed properly, further processed, and close to a year old. Further processed meats are smoked meats or sausages.
With experience of over 20 years handling frozen meat, we have found the best way to ensure the quality of our products is to keep all of our frozen product stored at a constant temperature of -8 degrees F either on the farm in our walk-in freezers, or using cold-storage off-site. We manage our inventory as first in, first out.
With proper data, we plan production schedules on our farm based on demand with room to grow each year. Most of our products do not stay in our freezers for longer than 3 months. We are now experiencing some longer times in inventory since we adjusted our production schedules to serve the demand through the thick of the pandemic. Demand soared during the shutdowns - we raised more animals, and introduced more breeding stock to feed more people.
After people started feeling more comfortable traveling, eating-out, and noticing products return to the large grocery stores, demand for local food settled, causing some products to hang around for longer periods of time.
Even though there is no change in quality, we do understand how the perception of older product can be hard to overcome as a consumer. Therefore, we offer discounts when we can, and encourage opportunities to fill your freezer.
In comparison to grocery store meats, pack dates are not required. Companies can also use best-by or sell-by dates. If they use pack dates, it only indicates the day on which the meat changed packages or was further processed, not necessarily when it was initially harvested.
Grocery store meats can be stored frozen, thawed for the fresh deli-case, then re-frozen and marketed in the freezer section if not sold. Any fluctuation in temperature may diminish the quality. Therefore, when comparing to grocery store meats without knowing all of the storage practices, we suggest being more cautious.
Whenever you find our meats in your local store, you can have confidence that we’ve maintained constant sub-zero temperatures prior to delivery.
We want you to trust us as your farmers, and trust the quality of meats we raise, from start-to-finish. This starts with a conversation, whether a meet and greet, a phone call, an email, or a follow.
Thank you for being a part of this important conversation.