Direct Marketers May Be Exempt From Food License Registration

April 9, 2002

PIKETON, Ohio - Ohio farmers who sell their products at farmer's markets, farm product auctions and similar direct marketing outlets may be exempt from food license registration and inspection if they meet certain requirements. An amendment in Ohio's Uniform Food Safety Code, Senate Bill 136 passed by the Ohio General Assembly last fall, allows for retail food establishment license and inspection exemptions from direct agricultural marketing facilities based upon the types of foods being sold. John Ellerman, an Ohio State University Extension agricultural marketing specialist, said the change in the law was designed to make it easier and less expensive for smaller farmers to maintain their business. "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. Prices ranged anywhere from $100 to $500," said Ellerman, who works at Ohio State's South Centers in Piketon, Ohio. "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." According to the change in the law, farmers who sell at a farmer's market can claim exemption if they only sell one or more of the following: * Commercially pre-packaged 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 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 farm auctions can claim exemption if one or more of the following items are offered for sale: * Eggs sold to the final consumer if obtained from an exempt farm (500 or fewer hens). * Poultry sold to the final consumer if obtained from an exempt farm (1,000 or fewer chickens raised, processed and sold per year). * Non-amendable meats sold to the final consumer, such as rabbit, bison, ostrich or emu. * Fresh unprocessed fruits or 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. A farm market may claim exemption if one or more of the following items are offered for sale: * Commercially pre-packaged 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 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. * Cider and other juices manufactured on-site. * Eggs sold to the final consumer if obtained from an exempt farm (500 or fewer hens). * Poultry sold to the final consumer if obtained from an exempt farm (1,000 or fewer chickens raised, processed and sold per year). * Non-amendable meats sold to the final consumer, such as rabbit, bison, ostrich or emu, on the condition that the person offering to sell the meat raises and processes the animals. Ellerman said that home bakers are also exempt from obtaining a license if they are not producing any potentially hazardous baked goods. "Things like bread are fine, but if someone wants to bake and sell something like a crème pie, a home bakers license is required," he said. "One item that is still controversial is marketing meat and eggs at farmer's markets. You can sell them at directly to the final consumer at product auctions and farm markets, but not at farmer's markets without a mobile retail food license. The meat has to be state or USDA-inspected when sold with a mobile retail food license." Ellerman said that farm markets, farmers' markets, and farm product auctions seeking exemption must register with the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Forms or further information is available at http://www.ohiofruit.org or http://www.ohiovegetables.org by following links on "Growers News" and "Legislative and Regulatory Issues." Information may also be obtained from the Ohio Department of Agriculture's website at http://www.state.oh.us/agr/ and following links on "Food Safety." More information is available regarding cottage food production, maple syrup and sorghum processing, beekeeping and selling honey, mobile retail food license labeling, additional miscellaneous exemptions, and other definitions relative to the Uniform Food Safety Code and Senate Bill 136 at the above web sites. Specific questions should be addressed to the ODA, Division of Food Safety at (614) 728-6250. "Farmers should contact their local health department to apply for a mobile retail food establishment license and they can use the license anywhere in the state," said Ellerman. "My recommendation is that sellers at farmer's markets, roadside markets and produce auctions be assertive in working with their local health departments. It has been my experience that most health department personnel working with food safety issues will work with producers to help them meet food safety requirements," said Ellerman. "It's important for a farmer to ask for help. By doing so they can develop a win-win situation." Ellerman also encourages producers to involve their local Extension agent in the process. "There are obstacles in farmers getting the knowledge they need to do it right, and that's where county agents can play a role," he said. Direct agricultural markets are increasing throughout the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farmer's markets have increased 63 percent from 1994 to 2000. Over 2,800 farmer's markets operate in the United States. The ODA lists more that 600 statewide farm markets, roadside markets, produce auctions and other agricultural markets in its Ohio Farmers Market Directory.

Author(s): 
Candace Pollock
Source(s): 
John Ellerman