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The USDA & Zombies
The USDA and Zombies: Green Beef Jerky
The USDA has no sense of humor about zombie cows.

None at all.

People have asked us repeatedly why it took so long between our announcement of Zombie Jerky, and the time it came out. Short-but-incomplete answer? The USDA. They were very good sports through the whole process, especially when presented with a green beef jerky that was marked as being parts of zombie flesh, but they also take their jobs very seriously. Let’s see the evolution of a USDA approved meat product.

--The Story--

We used a consultant for the first portion of the approval process to get the label as close as possible to USDA-approved specs before submitting it to the USDA.

July 21st, 2010 - Submitted original label art to the consultant

There were only a couple minor changes. I'll skip over boring stuff like "ingredient statement and the signature line must be contiguous," and just give you the ridiculous parts. So we submitted this art to the USDA through the consultant around the 27th after minor changes.

Aug 17th, 2010 - Response from USDA

5. The reviewer did not like "teriyucki", "room temp" and "mutagen free". She said they were inappropriate statements and must be removed.

7. Lastly, it appears that the reviewer also doesn''t like the references to Zombies and Naturally occurring zombies, etc, and wants that removed. I would argue that the name of Zombie Jerky should be ok as it is your brand name for this type of product. Also, I wonder if we can argue with FSIS about the "real zombies" as you do qualify it with the cow statement. But you should remove/modify the "naturally occurring zombies" and the "doesn't turn you into a zombie" statements.

Aug 24th, 2010 - Submitted revised label art after some back and forth

Sept 3rd, 2010 - Received fax from USDA with additional corrections

As you can see by the above fax, they had some additional problems, like the biohazard sign. At this point, it'd been nearly a month and a half since our original submission and we were getting antsy, so we had the brilliant idea to leave the censoring lines on our final package. So we did a nice, clean censored version of it and submitted it to the consultant to see if we were insane to try to release a censored product.

Sept 7, 2010 - Response from Consultant

Well, when they strike something out and approve it with that change, they expect you to remove that when you print the final label. I've never had a previous client as to do something like this.

Again, as nobody as asked this of me before I'm not sure if this would be acceptable. I would guess that having the words blacked out would be acceptable as long as they are completely blacked out so they couldn't be seen.

I'm more concerned about the hazard symbol. Even with it crossed out you can see it; and the lines crossing it out might be seen as its own claim(ie like those circles with the line through it). So I would be more hesitant to show the medical hazard symbol with the lines over it. Unless you wanted to completely cover it so you couldn't see it either, I would remove that.

We decided that it wasn't worth it to try a censored version and created a new one, this time with the offending items removed and a new logo.

Sept 8th, 2010 - Call to USDA

I realized that they didn't know the actual product was green, so I decided to call the USDA directly. After a short, but very pleasant conversation with the investigator, she mentioned that the USDA likes to approve "good and wholesome" products, and implied this didn't look like one. We discussed zombie cows briefly as well. However, I was able to convey that the actual meat was green, and we were concerned that if we didn't mention that on the label, consumers would think the actual meat was bad. She understood, and hadn't realized that we were making a green meat product originally.

So we submitted our new design.

Sept 9th, 2010 - Response from USDA

Thanks for sending the proof. There are some additional changes besides modifying the term green so [sic] of which were not picked up on the original review. Because there were so many issues with the initial submission, they were missed. I have listed them below. Please review them and modify the sketch as described. If you wish to discuss these modification, please give me a call tomorrow afternoon. I have also included ________ and ______ (staff experts in nutrition claims and information) to provide further comments if necessary.

3. Remove the DNA strand from the front of the package, it could be viewed as a symbol for protein (an undefined nutrient content claim)
6. The statement “loaded with protein to keep muscles strong” needs to also be removed because it is a structure function claim and not permitted on meat and poultry products.

If you make the modifications and email the proof back to me, I will connect it to the original approval. However, you can also resubmit through ____________ and I will review it again on an expedited approval.

Sept 13th, 2010 - Submission of revised label


I've included the proof with all of the modifications required, except one. We left the DNA strand, because I wanted to discuss it further with you. I see how it could be viewed as a symbol for protein. We intended it to just look like a cool lab symbol, and didn't connect the dots between it and protein synthesis. Is there a way we can define the nutrient content claim for protein? We like the symbol, and we need something to fill that space. Alternately, I feel the symbol could be viewed as a claim for the beef jerky to contain DNA. Heat can denature the DNA in beef, but there are considerable portions of DNA that remain intact. Would this suffice as a nutrient content claim?

If there is no solution to using it, we can replace it with a totally non-associated symbol, like a greek letter or an original creation. If that is the case, could you please send back the proof as approved minus the symbol, and we can replace it on our end and get into production on this project? If there is some way that we can keep the DNA strand, please let us know and we'll make the changes promptly.


The USDA promptly replied the same day noting that they understood the urgency of our matter, and the investigator was out of the office that day, but would respond the next day. Impressive!

Sept 14th, 2010 - Response from USDA

Well...that didn't work. I pointed out the black rectangles and they promptly resent.
Hi Aaron:

Thank you for the information. After some discussion with my staff, we think it is best if you remove the double helix symbol as it may infer an association with protein levels. I just crossed it off the label and trust you will replace with one of the options you included in your email. I made a couple of additional changes, minor ones, that you will see when you get the fax. I will approve the label as sketch modified and fax it over this afternoon. If you have additional questions, feel free to email or call me.

I appreciate your patience and willingness to make the modification.
Sept 15th - FINAL LABEL!

So finally, after nearly 2 months of back and forth, we had an approved label. We could begin the rather slow process of having plates created to make the film that would become jerky bags. Creating the bags and getting them packaged properly took the rest of the time. The final design wasn't as cool as the original in our opinions, but at least it was USDA approved Zombie Jerky!

Special thanks to the USDA for being very tolerant of our nonsense...including this blog post :-)

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