Food Safety at Ohio Farmers’ Markets

Earlier this week it was brought to our attention that a vendor in Lake County was cited by the local board of health for selling “washed” vegetables and greens. The local health department official was enforcing a new interpretation of food safety rules that assumed washing greens with water was “food processing” and a farmer who was not a licensed “processor” washing them was making an “adulterated” (unsafe) product. The following article was brought to our attention: http://wholefoodusa.wordpress.com/2009/07/12/alert-ohio-farm-food-and-health-alert/

The Ohio Farmers Market Management Network (FMMN) wants to encourage accurate interpretation of food safety rules by local agencies. In this effort, we have contacted the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) and they have been very responsive.

We would like to hear from you.

Are there any other issues that you are seeing in your Markets on a regular basis that need to go on that discussion list? We will take these concerns to our talks with the ODA.

Please send us a detailed account of the incident, your name and phone number, the name of the vendor, the county, the enforcing agency and agent name if possible,the farmers market and date where it occurred. Email it to us via  FMMN Secretary or place a public comment on this page using the comment feature below. Please include the county and as many details as you can.

Renee Hunt of OEFFA (Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association) made a similar call for comments in their email discussion forum on August 24th. Some responses to that list can be viewed below.

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2 comments to Food Safety at Ohio Farmers’ Markets

  • Mark McKenzie

    We are fortunate to have a venue for our Market that has electrical outlets available for mechanical refrigeration which our Health Dept. requires for our vendors who supply meat and dairy. Because we are a first year Market we invited our Health Dept. to our Pre-Market vendor meeting in May. We wanted any controversy to be dealt with up front before we opened. We almost lost several vendors before we even opened due to this requirement. That being said, because we had electric readily available that made the pill a little easier to swallow and the vendors hung with us.

    The biggest deterrent at this point are the onerous and inconvenient licensing and permit fees. If a vendor goes to markets in several counties they are run all over the place in addition to dealing with with numerous inconsistencies in regulation interpretation. We think it would be a huge help if there were a distinction in the regulations as they apply specifically to Farmer’s Markets. We think there should be one yearly, nominal, flat rate fee that is pro-rated depending on when the application is completed and the length of time the vendor intends to be active. The permit should be issued in the county of residence and apply across the State. When a vendor enters another county to be a vendor at a Farmer’s Market they should be required to notify the Health Dept of the county and register their permit number. This would put the county on notice that they have a new vendor in their jurisdiction should they choose to inspect them. If an inspector goes to a Farmer’s Market and discovers a vendor who has not registered with that county then at that point the inspector could issue a fine and or ask the vendor to leave the Market.
    Mark McKenzie, Chairperson, Tuscarawas Valley Family Farm Market

  • admin

    Renee Hunt of OEFFA (Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association) made a similar call for comments in their email discussion forum on August 24th. Responses are separated by dashed lines in this file.

    Renee wrote:
    I’ve been hearing concerns about county health department making changes with their mobile vendors licenses that could make marketing at farmers’ market (and other venues?) too onerous. For example, I’ve heard from a farmer that he may no longer be allowed to use cooler to sell his meat and eggs at the farmers’ market, but rather the items would have to be kept in a refrigerator until the point of sale.
    In order for OEFFA staff to understand what issues (or potential issues) are out there – and advocate for regulations and oversight that is safe, fair, and not a burden to our farmers – we need folks to share what they are being told by their county health departments, or what they are hearing from other marketers. Specifically, it would be helpful to know:
    1. What the issue/concern is, and how it would negatively impact you
    2. Where did you learn this information
    3. What county health department is issuing this change (please note: each county health department has its own set of rules; so your mobile vendor’s license may have different requirement than another’s – which may put some at a disadvantage…)
    4. When is this change supposed to take effect

    I’d like to keep this focus on the mobile vendor’s license (vs. a broader barrier discussion) so we can ferret out details on potential problems. However, if there’s another area you are concerned about, please let us know. Thanks for your insight on this. You can either post a response to the entire list serve (which might generate an interesting discussion), or you can email me directly at renee@oeffa.org.
    Best, Renee
    —————————————–
    Responses:
    —————————————–

    Hi, Renee ~
    >
    > I have been in email communication with Terri
    > Garhardt, Asst. Chef of Food Safety, ODA. Here is my last
    > email:
    >
    >
    > Hi, Terri ~
    >
    > Yes, I am located in Portage County. As a food safety
    > concern, the critical issue is keeping the cheese at
    > or below 41 degrees. This is easily accomplished
    > with insulated coolers and ice packs. The markets are thee
    > to four hours long and the coolers are designed to maintain
    > those temperatures for much longer periods of time than
    > three or four hours. Our cheese is pasteurized, vacum
    > sealed and is EXTREMELY cold when it goes in the
    > coolers and remains very cold the entire time. We keep
    > thermometers in each cooler to confirm the temperature
    > during before, during and after the market.
    >
    > Another issue that I find
    > extremely troublesome is that the interpretation of this law
    > varies county to county. As a vendor, you can attend a
    > farmers market with another cheesemaker from another county
    > who is allowed to sell out of a cooler with a thermometer to
    > varify that the cheese is, indeed, holding at or below 41
    > degress. They are required to draw a diagram of their tent
    > layout and describe how their cheeses are kept cold in the
    > coolers.
    >
    > Purchasing machanical
    > refrigerators simply is not feasible for most of
    > us. Many of the market facilities do have electrical
    > power so we would have to also purchase generators for
    > our cars. This would put most of us out of the
    > farmers market
    > business.
    >
    > No one is opposed to purchasing
    > the proper licensing. That is just good sense. But the very
    > great disparity county to county needs to be addressed.
    >
    >
    > This is really an issue of
    > common sense. The law allows coolers and ice packs if a
    > vendor purchases temporary licensing each week. Clearly
    > the health
    > departments have decided that the food safety
    > issue of keeping the cheese below 41 degrees has
    > been met. There is an obvious disconnect in
    > the law and/or its interpretation when a county requires
    > the use machanical refrigeration if a
    > vendor purchases a mobile license. The issue is food
    > safety, not what type of license you have. The simple fact
    > is that cheese is kept at safe temperatures in coolers with
    > ice packs whether you have a temporary license or a mobile
    > license.
    >
    > I know that all the health
    > departments would welcome a statement from the ODA Division
    > of Food Safety clarifying and stating that cheeses can be
    > sold from coolers with ice packs
    > and thermometers.
    >
    > Let me reiterate that I would
    > welcome the opportunity to meet with vendors, market
    > managers, health and government officials to address
    > this issue.
    >
    > I have a letter from my health
    > department in Portage County stating that their
    > interpretation of the law is that I am exempt. This letter
    > should be honored by all the inspectors of all counties
    > but it has not been and we have been required to
    > purchase a mobile licenses in THEIR counties in order for us
    > to sell our cheese at the various markets.
    >
    > Thank you, Renee, for
    > getting involved.
    >
    > Jean Mackenzie
    >
    >
    > Jean
    > Mackenzie
    > Mackenzie
    > Creamery
    > P.O. Box 325
    > Hiram, OH 44234
    > http://www.mackenziecreamery.com
    > (330) 569-3387 – w/f
    > (440) 226-0772 – cell
    >
    —————————————–
    I am so glad you are addressing this very important issue. I was board president of the North Union Farmers’ Market in Cleveland when the then Director of ODA, Daley, got the health codes rewritten that affect all food sales including farmers’ markets. It was chaos for a while and I see we are suffering through this again as the food police try to keep us safe from local foods. This first problem is that because of home rule, each city or county can enforce food regulations as they see fit. The second problem is that many of these health departments and inspectors are not sufficiently educated to understand the science of food safety and they have no real experience with food. I wonder if any of them actually cooks.

    I have been trying for years to get an organization to adress this issue and get the health inspectors of the state on the side of farmers’ markets. No farmer in his or her right mind wants to sell something that is unsafe. Guidance is welcome, but ignorance is not.

    Mary K. Holmes

    —————————————–
    I work at Findlay Market in Cincinnati, OH. Out health inspectors have always prohibited farmers from using coolers. In Ohio, the law says that the temperature guidelines must be met. Because we have home rule, local inspectors may interpret how that requirement is to be met. The local enforcement agent can always be more restrictive than the state law but not more permissive. With all of the proposed changes in food safety across the board, I expect things will become more and more restrictive across the board. Our health inspector says “mechanized refrigeration from point of origin to point of sale.” Same for bakers making cheesecakes, cream or custard pies etc.it has been that way here for the eight years I have been here.
    Cynthia M. Brown
    Outdoor and Farmers Markets Manager
    Corporation for Findlay Market
    P.O. Box 14727
    Cincinnati, OH 45250-0727
    513-665-4839 ext. 16
    513-721-3480 fax
    http://www.findlaymarket.org

    —————————————–
    Not sure how to post to everyone but Licking Co Health, Tom Cassell is saying that we have to have a reefer truck or a generator and freezer to transport and sell meat at the farm market next year. I can send his letter along if yoiu wish. I am making plans to try to sell everything from the farm next year and skip farm markets. Not saying that’s what I’ll do bI trying to put things in place for that. Market managers and customers need to know this.

    Dick Jensen
    Flying J Farm
    —————————————–
    I am so glad that OEFFA is taking some leadership on this project. I agree
    that this is a huge problem that needs to be resolved. As artisan
    cheesemakers we go to 20 farmers markets a week. Since 10 of them are
    simultaneously, we have 10 mobile retail food licenses. Having that many
    licenses doesn’t bother us since it is part of doing business.

    In Logan County our inspector took a pretty tough stand on the set-up. He
    finally agreed that we could use coolers with ice packs (no ice) as long as
    we take a mechanical refrigerator with us to market. We ended up purchasing
    a some Coleman coolers that run on either car battery power or plug into a
    generator or electrical service. Ironically, most localities don’t care or
    always follow-up. That is the frustrating part of the situation. Some
    localities are more lenient while others are more stringent.

    Requiring mechanical refrigeration all the way from manufacture to consumer
    sale is cost prohibitive. I agree that no one wants to sell anything that
    will harm the consumer, but if there are other proven ways for keeping
    product cold, it should be allowed.

    Angel
    Blue Jacket Dairy
    angel@bluejacketdairy.com
    —————————————–
    At the urban markets vendors from different counties sell side by side. Some frozen meat vendors are allowed to sell out of coolers, while others are required by their mobile license to have mechanical refrigeration. This puts some at a competitive disadvantage of having to incur more costs to be able to sell at the same market. I do believe that acceptable temperatures can be achieved without mechanical refrigeration, however it seems that most health depts are now fixated on that requirement.It seems to be very common for regulators to focus on the process and the equipment rather than the measurable result (the final temperature of the food). It should be about the temperature of the food, not the method used to cool it.

    Mayda
    frijolitofarm.com
    —————————————–
    Here in Delaware Co. I had to buy a $250 license to sell all year. I also had to buy a $230 small refrigerator to house my cheese in during market day. It is a hassle to lug that thing from my truck on and off. I have had a crippled man help and a man with carpel tunnel in his wrists. It is just too awkward for one person, namely a woman! I bought at the beginning of the season before I had to refrigerator a $75 license which was good for only one week. I took advantage of it and sold meat, eggs, cream pies and my cheese. I could have sold my first born for all they cared. The $75 covered everything.

    The most difficult aspect of Delaware Co. is the vouchers for older persons and persons of limited means. They are forbidden to use those vouchers for dairy products; they can buy fudge and cake but not cheese or eggs. I guess the health department thinks older people are too dumb to know that cheese must be refrigerated. Of course we know that cheese is at its best at room temperature. What a scam these officials run. I haven’t even begun to investigate what I must do to sell eggs. And I have a lot of requests. I also had a lot of people with vouchers wanting cheese and the sad looks on their faces when I told them they couldn’t use them was upsetting for both of us. I am going to call the Department and ask that this silly regulation be amended. Wish me luck and thanks for this conversation, Renee.

    Sylvia Zimmerman
    Fulton Creek Jersey Cheese LLC
    —————————————–

    I just heard from Amy Grove in Morgan County (she’s at the county extension office) that farmer’s market vendors will have to have a $250 license now to sell at the market.

    Annie Warmke
    annie@bluerockstation.com

    Hello Renee and Mayda!
    We are fortunate to have a venue for our Market that has electrical outlets available for mechanical refrigeration which our Health Dept. requires for our vendors who supply meat and dairy. Because we are a first year Market we invited our Health Dept. to our Pre-Market vendor meeting in May. We wanted any controversy to be dealt with up front before we opened. We almost lost several vendors before we even opened due to this requirement. That being said, because we had electric readily available that made the pill a little easier to swallow and the vendors hung with us.

    The biggest deterrent at this point are the onerous and inconvenient licensing and permit fees. If a vendor goes to markets in several counties they are run all over the place in addition to dealing with with numerous inconsistencies in regulation interpretation. We think it would be a huge help if there were a distinction in the regulations as they apply specifically to Farmer’s Markets. We think there should be one yearly, nominal, flat rate fee that is pro-rated depending on when the application is completed and the length of time the vendor intends to be active. The permit should be issued in the county of residence and apply across the State. When a vendor enters another county to be a vendor at a Farmer’s Market they should be required to notify the Health Dept of the county and register their permit number. This would put the county on notice that they have a new vendor in their jurisdiction should they choose to inspect them. If an inspector goes to a Farmer’s Market and discovers a vendor who has not registered with that county then at that point the inspector could issue a fine and or ask the vendor to leave the Market.
    Mark McKenzie, Chairperson, Tuscarawas Valley Family Farm Market

    —————————————–