New exemptions for Ohio markets may save fruit, vegetable growers cash

COLUMBUS – Ohio fruit and vegetable growers now have a new set of regulations that may exempt them from local licensing and save them hundreds of dollars each year.

The state general assembly recently passed a bill intended to reverse the negative impacts of previously passed legislation.

The previous legislation had placed the licensing and inspection of many Ohio farm markets into the hands of local health districts.

This new amendment to Ohio’s Uniform Food Safety Code will allow more farm markets, farmers’ markets and farm product auctions to claim exemption from local licensing fees if they meet the requirements.

“When the Uniform Food Safety Code was originally passed, all direct food marketers had to have a retail food license that was obtained from the local health department,” said John Ellerman, agricultural marketing specialist at Ohio State University. “Prices ranged from $100 to $500. This created a public outcry because for the small-scale producer selling a couple hundred dollars of vegetables a year, he simply can’t afford that cost.”

Such was the case for Fred Finney, fruit and vegetable grower and owner of two farm markets in the Wooster area.

Hard-hit growers. Because Finney owns two farm markets, he had to pay the licensing fee twice, once for each market. The fee was between $200-$240 per market each year.

“I’m for food safety,” Finney said. “We’ve been doing things to keep our food safe for 30 years and nothing really changed with those [previous licensing] rules.

“The rules didn’t change anything in food safety, they just got more people involved with more fees,” he said.

Finney mainly sells apples and raspberries; however, he also grows smaller amounts of plums, blueberries, pears and most other fruits that can be found in the grocery store. He also grows and sells various vegetables.

These products alone would have kept Finney under the exemption umbrella even without the new rules. But Finney also carries jams, jellies, cider, snack foods and old general store candies. These particular products made Finney’s markets subject to the local licensing laws.

The aspect hardest for Finney to understand was why these prepackaged products subjected him to the inspection fees when they came from a location that also had to be inspected, he said.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture also inspects his markets every year, regardless of the local agency’s responsibility. Those department inspections are free and equally as thorough as the local inspection, he said.

Finney now fits into the exemption category because “the total space of the [commercial prepackaged] display is less than or equal to 100 cubic feet.”

“The whole process was well-intended but there were more unintended consequences than they ever realized,” Finney said.

Reasons for exemptions. John Wargowsky, director of labor services at the Ohio Farm Bureau, helped propose the new exemptions.

Small growers or large growers with a small farm market have been affected the most by the new bill because they were unable to absorb the licensing costs as easily as markets with larger volumes, he said.

A big concern, Wargowsky said, was that by not having these exemptions, new growers would be reluctant to enter the market industry and other farmers would be hesitant to expand their businesses.

“We are committed to education on food safety within the industry,” Wargowsky said. “Basic education helps more than over-regulating.”

Cider concerns. Cider has been another area of concern because it is exempt when manufactured on-site, but many markets do not produce their own cider.

However, the “commercially prepackaged food that is not potentially hazardous” addition allows those markets carrying off-site manufactured cider to claim exemption.

Cider manufactured off-site is coming from an approved source as long as the cider facility is operating within compliance of the law. There should not be any facilities that are not in compliance, Wargowsky said, because the Department of Agriculture inspects them.

Whose responsibility? Wargowsky stresses that in order for an individual to be exempt at farmers’ markets or product auctions, the organizer is responsible for filing for the exemption. However, it is up to the individual to be sure the operator is registered, he said.

Although exempted facilities are not subject to licensing or inspection by their local health agency, they will not be exempt from inspection by the agriculture department.

Farm markets, farmers’ markets and farm product auctions seeking exemption can register with the Ohio Department of Agriculture. For forms go to www.ohiofruit.org or www.state.oh.us/agr and follow the food safety links. For further information contact the Ohio Department of Agriculture at 800-282-1955.

Who is exempt? Farmers who sell at a farmer’s market may claim exemption if they sell only the following:

* Commercially prepackaged food that is not potentially hazardous, on the condition that the food is contained in displays on the premises where business is conducted and the total space of the display is less then or equal to 100 cubic feet.

* Fresh unprocessed fruits of vegetables.

* Maple syrup, sorghum or honey.

* Products from a cottage food production operation and if they are properly labeled. Labeling requirements include name and address of the operation; name of the food product; ingredients; net weight or net volume; and a statement in 10-point type that the product is home produced.

Farmers who sell at a farm auction may claim exemption if they sell only the following:

* Eggs sold to the final consumer if obtained from an exempt farm (500 or less hens).

* Poultry sold to the final consumer if obtained from an exempt farm (1,000 or less chickens raised, processed and sold per year).

* Non-amendable meats, such as rabbit, bison, ostrich or emu, sold to the final consumer.

* Fresh unprocessed fruits or vegetables.

* Maple syrup, sorghum or honey.

* Products from a cottage food production operation and if they are properly labeled.

A farm market may claim exemption if they sell only the following:

* Commercially prepackaged food that is not potentially hazardous, on the condition that the food is contained in displays on the premises where business is conducted and the total space of the display is less than or equal to 100 cubic feet.

* Fresh unprocessed fruits or vegetables.

* Maple syrup, sorghum or honey.

* Products from a cottage food production operation if they are properly labeled.

* Cider and other juices manufactured on-site.

* Eggs sold to the final consumer if obtained from an exempt farm (500 or less hens).

* Poultry sold to the final consumer if obtained from an exempt farm (1,000 or less chickens raised, processed and sold per year).

* Non-amendable meats sold to the final consumer on the condition that the person offering to sell the meat raises and processes the animals.

(You can contact Kristy Alger at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at kalger@farmanddairy.com.)

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