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Clearer Rules For Food Safety At Farmers’ Markets

“It can be something as simple as going to your local church hall or community centre. Chances are they have a place that we issue a permit to.”

– MIKE LEBLANC, MANAGER OF THE HEALTH PROTECTION UNIT WITH MANITOBA HEALTH

More perogis and pumpkin pies may turn up for sale at farmers’ markets this year – and nobody needs to be breaking any laws to sell them there either.

Such foods are deemed “higher-risk” foods and can’t be sold at farmers’ markets if they’re prepared at home. But they can be sold if they’re prepared in an inspected kitchen. That’s been a source of confusion for some vendors.

Revisions to Temporary Food Market Guidelines (TFMGs), to be released this spring, aim to make the requirements to sell these and other higher-risk foods more clear, said a representative of Manitoba Health speaking at the Direct Farm Marketing Conference here last month.

“We need to do a better job in the guidelines of explaining that to people,” said Mike Leblanc, Manitoba Health’s manager of the health protection unit.

His department, plus representatives of the Farmers’ Market Association of Manitoba (FMAM) and Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI), sat down at the beginning of February to revise the guidelines, which fall under the Public Health Act, which sets regulation to protect Manitobans from risks associated with commercially processed food.

FMAM has advocated for revised TFMGs since the organization’s inception over two years ago.

Wording in the revised document will include more information on what people actually need to do to comply with the rules, Leblanc said. For example, where the guidelines state a “licensed inspected facility” is needed to make higher-risk foods, what that actually is will be explained in more detail.

“That doesn’t mean going out and building a food-processing plant from scratch,” said Leblanc. “It can be something as simple as going to your local church hall or community centre. Chances are they have a place that we issue a permit to.”

A vendor must also secure a separate permit of its own to make a food product. The guidelines will now clearly explain how to get that too, said Leblanc.

SELLING SALSA

Carol Boyer, a new farmers’ market vendor last summer, did well selling canned salsa and said “it really wasn’t that big of a deal” to comply with the TFMGs’ requirements.

Boyer, who lives near Stonewall, attended a spring meeting hosted by her market last year to find out what she’d need to do.

“My first thought was, I can’t afford that on my own,” she said, upon initially hearing she’d need that licensed facility to make the product. But that meeting also made it clear she could opt to use a community kitchen, if it had a public health inspector’s permit.

Boyer got permission to use the kitchen facilities at the Stonewall Legion and made over 200 jars of salsa late last summer.

Her public health inspector advised her on everything she needed to do, from writing a proposal letter and submitting her recipe to getting a pH test on her food product. The Food Development Centre helped her with that, plus the labelling, said Boyer.

The only tricky part was getting started, she added. “The TFMGs tell you what they need but they don’t say ‘Call the Food Development Centre’ or things like that.”

LOTS OF QUESTIONS

FMAM has consulted vendors and member markets over the winter, asking what they knew about TFMGs.

There’s no particular resistance to regulation, and there is in fact strong willingness to comply, but there are plenty of questions about the rules, said Tamela Friesen of Roblin, who conducted the consultation for FMAM.

“A hundred per cent of them had questions,” she said.

“There’s been a big misconception out there that you can’t sell salsa, for instance, or you can’t sell a pumpkin pie, or perogies,” said FMAM co-founder Sheri Blaylock, who also spoke at the same seminar.

“Yes, you can sell them,” she said, so long as you follow the regulation.

FMAM has information sheets available to help vendors and market co-ordinators get up to speed on the guidelines and other matters related to safely selling food.

For more information contact FMAM’s offices at www.manitobafarmersmarkets.caor telephone 204-485-1317.

[email protected]

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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