Poultry processing regulations can be confusing, especially for small operations. Here we walk you through the federal law and small-scale exemptions and state-level laws and regulations.
The federal Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA), administered by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is the primary law governing poultry processing.
The PPIA requires that poultry, to be sold as human food, must be slaughtered and processed in a facility with "continuous" inspection, which means bird-by-bird. This can be federal inspection or state inspection in the twenty-five states with their own poultry inspection programs.
The PPIA contains some exemptions for small processors, allowing processing without continuous, bird-by-bird inspection. But exempt processors still have to follow sanitation, recordkeeping, and other rules.
This table, adapted from the FSIS guidebook on the exemptions, explains where you can sell poultry processed under the different exemptions.
The exemptions, regulated by Chapter 9, Code of Federal Regulations, Section 381.10, are explained in this FSIS guide: “Guidance for Determining Whether a Poultry Slaughter or Processing Operation is Exempt from Inspection Requirements of the Poultry Products Inspection Act”. NOTE: There are known errors in this guide and FSIS intends to update it.
The exemptions are also explained on this NMPAN webinar “Poultry Processing Exemptions II”, from a federal and state perspective.
Details about two specific exemptions that allow you to slaughter, cut up, and sell up to 20,000 birds per year to restaurants, retailers, distributors, and others.
On these two Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network webinars, policy experts from USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service, state-level regulators, and poultry processors explain the federal laws, rules, and how they work in practice. The two links below will take you to the slide presentations (pdfs), the webinar recordings, and other useful resources
Federal law allows exemptions for small poultry processors, but not all states accept those exemptions. Many states are much more restrictive about where exempt poultry can be sold -- or if it can be sold at all.
Our guide provides (1) a summary of state laws and regulations related to poultry processing, with a focus on how (and whether) the federal exemptions work in that state; (2) links to useful state-specific resources, laws and regs, and other online sources as available; and (3) contact info for the relevant agencies.
Please note that we do not cover each federal exemption for each state. We focus on the exemptions most relevant to small-scale producers and processors who wish to sell their poultry. (For example, we don’t discuss the personal use exemption – slaughtering your own birds on your own farm for your own dinner table – and we haven’t heard of any state where this is not allowed.)
We initially collected information directly from state regulators, often going back several times to clarify, in late 2010/early 2011. This guide was updated in 2015. Thank you to Rebecca Thistlethwaite, author, farmer and sustainability consultant, for all her help in updating this regulatory guide!
Keep in mind: this guide is NOT a legal document and should NOT be considered legal advice. Please double-check with state agencies and/or FSIS before you start any processing operation.
Version date: October 2015
The report currently includes 46 of the 50 states. We will add information for the remaining states as possible. If your state is not yet included, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Research for this guide was done for the Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network by Alicia Fitzgerald, Mary Emery, Lauren Gwin and Kathryn Quanbeck. The guide updates, and expands on, a 2001 report, “Legal Issues for Small-Scale Poultry Processors: Part 2, Laws by States,” written by Janie Hipp, JD, LLM, for Heifer Project International. You can order that report from the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association, though it is out of date for multiple states.
All research was initially conducted from December 2010 through February 2011, with updates in 2012 and 2015, and represents the best available information at the time.
Small-Scale Poultry Processing, by Dr. Anne Fanatico, explains poultry processing, step by step, in detail, with pictures of different parts of the process. It compares on-farm, small, and large processing systems. Diagrams of processing equipment and plant setup are included.
This informative guide also discusses other people’s experiences with poultry processing, equipment they use, and more.
The Mobile Poultry Slaughterhouse, by Ali Berlow, founder of the Island Grown Initiative (and a long-time NMPAN member), is a well-written, thoughtful, and practical manual for building a humane and economical mobile poultry processing unit, based on Ali's experience getting one up and running on Martha's Vineyard, MA.
Looking for a small-scale poultry processor? NCAT maintains a database that is searchable by state. You can access that database here.