Let’s Keep Local Foods Safe

July 01, 2010

Good intentions don’t make for good food-safety practices.

Good intentions don’t make for good food-safety practices.

What’s up when states like Wisconsin, Tennessee and Maine exempt small, local canners, chicken farmers or non-profits and charities from food-safety laws that apply to larger commercial operations?

To The Lempert Report, food safety isn’t a matter of scale; it’s a matter of science. Food safety laws exist to protect the public. There is no substitute for proper temperature control, sanitary conditions, worker hygiene or inspections that are part of the expected oversight of commercial operations. There is no gray area here.

Some legislators romanced by the notion of the local food movement and small producers have allowed the following lately, according to a report by The Associated Press:

  • Farmers market vendors in Wisconsin no longer need licenses to sell high-acid canned foods such as pickled fruits, sauerkraut and salsa.
  • Small chicken farmers with fewer than 1,000 birds in Maine are allowed to follow less rigorous processing rules.
  • Non-profits and charities in Tennessee are free of the burdens of food-safety rules, even though they might feed many people.

In our view, it doesn’t matter how quaint or benevolent a producer might seem. Food-borne illness is a distinct threat. Any outbreaks or deaths stemming from these loopholes would quickly de-romanticize small-time food production and kill consumer confidence in locally produced foods.

This isn’t a Big Brother issue; public health is at stake. And why hurt the medium- and larger-sized food producers who spend a lot to conform to food-safety rules, and have to build these costs into their food prices? Why should they lose business by letting others skirt under the radar?

Let’s keep the local food movement vibrant, safe and fair.