Wednesday, July 1, 2009

NC inspectors raid farmer's markets

Photo at a New Hampshire Farmer's Market by acanatta

Last weekend the NC state food inspectors removed numerous items for sale at the North Asheville Tailgate Market, telling several vendors they were out of compliance with state regulations. There were no fines this time, but the state can fine repeat offenders up to $2,000. The state inspectors who came to the Asheville market made vendors remove home canned items like pickles, and said the products and their recipes needed to be registered through the state — at $50 a recipe.
(BTW, Pickles are preserved in vinegar, which will not support the growth of bacteria, mold or virus germs.)

The inspectors from the N.C. Food and Drug Protection Division, part of the Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, responded to a complaint about canned goods that had not been prepared at an approved facility, according to Andrea Ashby, spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture.

While small market farmers are running scared that increasing food safety regulations will impose harsh constraints against them and perhaps put them out of business, huge companies like Nestle's Danville, VA facility reportedly had refused federal inspections for 5 years before the current recall for E. coli O157:H7 tainted cookie dough.

Why is it that inspectors can come down hard on the little guy, while huge businesses can thumb their noses at inspections? The Wall Street Journal reported on June 29 that inspection reports covering the past 5 years show that officials at Nestlé’s Danville, Va facility, "refused to allow a Food and Drug Administration inspector to review consumer complaints or inspect its program designed to prevent food contamination."

You probably saw on the news last night that the FDA has now verified e coli in the Nestle's cookie dough. Also yesterday, the Colorado company JBS Swift Beef increased their "voluntary" recall of contaminated beef by an additional 380,000 pounds.

The particular strain of e coli that causes severe food poisoning in humans is fecal contamination, whether animal of human origin.
I did an internet search and could not find a single report of an e coli or salmonella outbreak from meat or produce from a local farmer’s market. Surely there must have been some individual cases (even if from meat left in the car too long before getting it home), but certainly no “outbreak” was reported.

So why the close scrutiny on farmer's markets? Why are huge companies allowed to "self-regulate" only to end up with so many voluntary recalls? I'd guess that the cost of recalls over the last few years has been a bare fraction of the gross revenue of these companies, one they so can easily absorb that they are willing to take risks.

I read somewhere the Smithfield plant in Virginia processes 35,000 hogs a day. That's over 8 million pounds PER DAY. I don't know what the daily poundage is from the Colorado beef plant mentioned above, but I'd bet their 380,000 pounds in recall are far less than a day's production.

On the other hand, farmer's market vendors mostly sell out of love of doing it, of having and providing fresh items, and the hope making a few bucks. Have you ever heard of a farmer's market seller getting rich from the market? I have thought about selling my jams, jellies and pickles at the farmer’s market; if I were still living in NC, just the recipe fees alone would be over $3,000 for the various kinds I make.


  1. Thanks for addressing this issue, which is really rooted in the globalization of the monetary system and the monoculturing of modern society. This same problem is being encountered by charities and school groups who have long depended on cottage industry to fund vital social services and programs. I think there is also an element of holdover from the "better living through chemistry" era, we're trained to believe that industry can and should protect us from ourselves.

  2. Good thoughts! I hope people are beginning to awaken to the fact no one can protect us but us.

    I'm SO new to blogging, and haven't figured out yet how to write so people are willing to comment; any and all comments (except trashing) are appreciated!

  3. It's interesting that the regulators were responding to "to a complaint about canned goods that had not been prepared at an approved facility". How does the complainer know whether or not the facility was "approved" or not?

    I suppose this is something that might come up in casual conversation at the market, where the vendor says something to the effect of "we make these in our kitchen at home". Something about the wording of the complaint just doesn't ring true to me. Sounds like a complaint from a competing company/producer rather than a customer complaint.

  4. Probably. That remark came from a state spokeswoman, and probably was crafted to show they were just following up on complaints rather than initiating any kind of harassment.


I'd love to hear what you think about my posts! We all learn together.