By DARRIN YOUKER
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Changes to state food safety laws will impact the more than 1,200 farmers markets across Pennsylvania that are gearing up for the summer season.
Late last year, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture began to implement a new state law that revamped Pennsylvania’s approach to food safety.
Under Pennsylvania’s old law, local jurisdictions that performed food safety inspections had their own procedures and reporting standards. Now, the law has been made uniform, and all food safety inspections are sent to a central database.
As well, vendors who are selling meats, eggs, milk and other prepared foods will need to obtain their own license to participate at farmers markets, department officials said.
The department does not expect the new law will hinder any markets from opening this year. Previously, a farmers market operated under one license. A violation at an individual stand would shut down the entire market, said Nicole Bucher, spokeswoman for the department of agriculture.
“If there was one bad action, the whole market had to be shut down,” she said. “That was certainly a flaw of the law.”
Farmers selling raw fruits and vegetables at farmers markets are exempt from many of the provisions, including the need for a license, of the new law.
According to the department:
Certain baked goods and jams, pickled products, honey and maple syrup do not need a license, but must submit a retail plan review to the department.
Unwrapped baked goods such as cakes and cookies must have a retail food facility license.
Meats, milk, cheese and eggs must have a retail food facility license.
Ready-to-eat foods, such as food carts and cafes, need a license.
So far, managers of farmers markets have said the new licensing requirements have not kept farmers from participating in upcoming markets.
Miralla Ranalo, who manages the eight farmers markets operated by the city of Pittsburgh, said the farmers are not deterred by the new law. About 45 vendors sell fresh produce, meats and cheeses at markets spread throughout the city neighborhoods.
“They are willing to do whatever is necessary to be at the farmer’s markets,” she said. “There was no gripe or cry about it.”
Suzanne Ewing, who runs the Main Street Farmers Market in Washington, Pa., said that all of the markets 22 vendors are interested in returning. To be sure, many of the vendors are trying to figure out what impact the change in the law will have on their business, Ewing said.
The market has been talking with its food safety inspector to make sure that everything will be in order for opening day, she said.
In the weeks leading up to the start of farmer’s market season, the department of agriculture, and the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture has been working to get the word out and educate farmers on how the laws will impact individual operations.