Thursday, January 8, 2009

Food safety and local food

There's a lot of chatter in the blogosphere in response to Bill Marler's Ten Top Food Safety Challenges for 2009. According to his website, Mr. Marler is "an accomplished personal injury and products liability attorney." Challenge #2 is local food:

"Outbreaks linked to local food and/or farmer's markets. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) groups and food co-ops need to demonstrate knowledge and practice of food safety, and be inspected. In addition to produce and meats/fish, prepared items are currently unsupervised in some, but not all locations."

This is amended copy. The original post did not include "but not all locations." Prior to the amendment, the local food blogs lit up with chatter, ranging from anger to applause.
Devra Gartenstein, owner of Patty Pan Grill and blogger on The Quirky Gourmet, took issue with Mr. Marler's targeting local food,

"Marler makes the claim that prepared foods at farmers' markets aren't regulated, an assertion that is nothing short of bizarre in light of the fact that it's simply untrue, and also potentially harmful to many small-scale producers like myself who pay through the nose for permits, and follow health department regulations."

Read the rest of her post here.

The Ethicurean, a wonderful local food blog, also took issue with Mr. Marler's targetting local food.

Food safety is a critical and difficult policy issue, especially as we move forward in the globalized/localized struggle. The balance between public education/awareness and policy/regulation is difficult. Anything we do to our bodies (read: eat) is a personal choice and involves personal risk. But at what point is the producer/processor of a food product liable for their product? If I buy carrots from the farmers market, I wash them off before I eat them. If I buy carrots from a supermarket, I wash them off before I eat them. That's just what I do, but not everybody follows the same rules. If I get a stomach ache from eating carrots from either retail location, what do I do? Sue the pants off somebody? Demand that the government inspect every carrot? Seriously, I don't know. I'm asking. And rambling.

As farmers in the Puget Sound battle swollen, flooding rivers, we will surely grapple with the question of food safety at farmers market in the next few weeks. Back when I worked for a local farm, we suffered a massive flood...and there was no specific policy for us to follow regarding what we could or could not sell/eat. Instead, we were handed the FEMA flood policy that was developed shortly after the flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina. Obviously two very different scenarios: one, rural, unidirectional, seasonal, the other, primarily urban, stagnant, and catastrophic...yet only one policy. That's a small example of how many questions and concerns, by producers and consumers alike, that have yet to be answered by food safety policy.



-Bill Marler's blog is awesome. He tackles a variety of food safety topics and has an enjoyable writing style, with wit, humor, and durn-good research. Go check it out.

-There was a comment conversation between Marler and Gartenstein on the Green Fork Blog.

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