Pickle In The Middle: Food Safety Law Questioned
By Brian McNeill
Del. David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, is seeking to legitimize black-market pickles.
Toscano’s measure, House Bill 60, would exempt from state food safety inspections private homes where the resident produces homemade pickles, relish or salsa intended for sale out of their house or at a farmers market.
Under current law, anyone who produces pickles, relish or salsa for sale at farmers markets or out of their home must open their kitchen to state inspectors who check for compliance with food safety laws.
Toscano’s bill would allow the sale of pickles, relish and salsa from uninspected kitchens, so long as the food is labeled with a sticker proclaiming: “NOT FOR RESALE — PROCESSED AND PREPARED WITHOUT STATE INSPECTION.”
“This bill would help encourage the production and sale of local food,” Toscano said.
Charlottesville City Market regulars John Coles and Christine Solem, co-owners of Satyrfield Farm in Albemarle County, have evaded state regulations for nearly five years by giving away their farm’s raw-milk goat cheese, the sale of which is prohibited in Virginia.
Solem said pickles, pickled peppers, pickled beets and other goods made in uninspected private homes are available for sale at farmers markets — but only under the table.
“They won’t give you their names, but these [foods] are sometimes sold,” she said.
Solem said that homemade pickles are perfectly safe, noting that foodborne illnesses from pickles are extremely rare.
“The idea that they’d be dangerous is just ridiculous,” she said.
Private homes are already exempted from inspections where the resident produces candies, jams, jellies and baked goods intended for sale from their home or at a farmers market. These exemptions were added under a 2008 bill sponsored by Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County.
The General Assembly approved Deeds’ bill, Senate Bill 272, without any dissenting votes. Yet Solem said the measure passed only after a difficult fight behind the scenes. State regulators, she said, had concerns about exempting private homes from food safety inspections. A similar fight, she said, is likely with Toscano’s bill.
“Now that we’re trying to add pickles, we’re going to have a fight,” she said.
Elaine Lidholm, spokeswoman of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said the agency is reviewing Toscano’s bill.
“It’s the law,” she said. “Right now, we are required by law to inspect these facilities for things like sanitation, temperature and so on. Basically, it’s to protect the consumer.”
Pickles, Lidholm said, are “acidified” and therefore may pose a greater risk of foodborne illness. Acidified foods were specifically not included in Deeds’ similar bill two years ago.
“It is because they pose a higher risk to the consuming public that they are not exempt from the current law,” she said.
Martha Moore, director of governmental relations for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, said her organization is also analyzing Toscano’s bill.
“The bill addresses state regulations, but it may conflict with federal regulations. Or it’s possible that it may not. We are still evaluating it,” she said.
Toscano’s bill has been referred to the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources.