UW Meat Lab organizes proposal for expansion of current facility
With the question of interstate meat shipment continually coming forward in the state, the UW Meat Lab has put together a proposal to expand the current facility so it could be used as a pilot plant for people looking to move toward selling meat commercially.
“Our current facility is state of the art, though it is creeping up on 30 years old,” said Warrie Means, associate professor at the University of Wyoming. “Our facility has a slaughter floor, a fabrication floor, a processing room, a sales room and associated offices, coolers and freezers, as well as a smokehouse.”
While the lab is top quality, Means added that it is designed for teaching and research – not to be used as a pilot plant.
Currently, the UW Meat Lab functions primarily as a teaching facility.
“We do a lot of teaching in the Meat Lab,” Means commented. “Last year, we killed 60 head of cattle for research projects.”
For some of the research projects being conducted at UW, Means noted that meat samples have to be pulled immediately following slaughter, so enzymes do not degrade the mRNA in the meat cells. For this reason, slaughtering research animals in a commercial plant would not be feasible.
“Our plant is designed for research and teaching,” he emphasized. “There has been some talk and studies done about building a pilot plant in the state of Wyoming that ranches and producers could use to develop new products or market Wyoming beef.”
The facility, Means said, ranks in the top 20 percent of facilities across the country.
Right now, Means noted that the Wyoming Department of Agriculture Consumer Health Services division inspects Wyoming meat plants. However, because they aren’t USDA inspected, products cannot be shipped interstate.
“There has also been a lot of discussion over the last 20 years about changing our state inspection systems to be equal with the federal system,” he explained. “While our system is the same as, it is not considered equal to the federal inspections.”
Additionally, older meat plants within the state would likely not meet requirements for processing plants without huge, expensive investments and remodeling efforts.
“We are talking about building a plant in Wyoming that could be used to develop and market products,” Means said.
“So what would it take to modify the UW Meat Lab to work as a pilot plant?” asked Means. “We put together a proposal about what it would be necessary to get us started.”
The proposed facility is a 9,720 square foot facility with added coolers, preparation areas and freezers.
“We need more coolers and freezer space, a full kitchen to develop recipes and make processed products, a larger cooking room and dedicated coolers and packaging for cooked products,” Means noted.
“We think we would need more area in the plant to accommodate increased volume of product and the number of people that would want to use the facility,” he said.
Means also added that concern in the meat industry about cross contamination between cooked and raw product would require more area to ensure separate space for both.
A loading dock would also be added to ship product out.
To accomplish the proposed expansion, Means noted that approximately $2.4 million would be required to upgrade the structures and rooms in the facility.
“We would need equipment to put in those rooms, and that comes in at $633,000,” said Means. “One time costs would be about $3 million.”
Additionally, approximately $81,000 in continuing personnel costs would be necessary.
Economically, Means also noted that the offal and carcasses provide another challenge.
The idea of a pilot plant also introduces several other challenges.
“There are things that are going to have to be worked out on the production end,” Means noted. “We can’t afford to keep meat in the freezer, and we need cattle year round.”
Many cattle, said Means, are ready to kill at the end of May, but students at UW complete their semester the beginning of May.
“We also have to buy cattle to use for teaching because we need cattle every two weeks,” he said. “Plus, UW’s cattle are too similar. In teaching, I want fat cattle, muscular cattle and thick cattle to show the differences.”
While in its infancy, Means said they will continue to look at studies and the feasibility of expanding the UW Meat Lab and establishing a pilot plant at the facility.