Research indicates that the popularity of local farmer’s markets is growing, supported by the demand for organic foods and focus on sustainability. They support healthy communities and reconnect people to their food system. Fresh sustainable produce means better health and lower obesity rates. Families in need can use food stamps at the market, placing cash back into local taxpayer pockets. The markets also foster healthy social connections by bringing people of diverse backgrounds together within the community. So, how will the proposed county health code impact farmer’s markets?
Supervisor Bruce Bracker stated, “The state got a lot stricter with farmer’s markets – it’s just not appropriate for rural Arizona. They are writing code for Maricopa County, but there is a difference between a major metropolitan area and a rural area where everybody knows the vendors. This is neighbors selling to neighbors, so hopefully the state will address this issue, but we cannot be more lenient than the state code.” Jeff Terrell, SCC Environmental Health Department Director, acknowledged that there is no specific reference in the state or federal code regarding farmer’s markets. These markets have evolved over time from the original produce stands by the side of the road into larger events where vendors sell baked goods, local grass fed meats, prepared foods, natural personal care products, and arts and crafts. Some of these food products trigger compliance with food safety practices under federal, state, and county governments. Nonfood items, along with fresh, unwashed, uncut produce are not subject to any county fees, certification, training or permits
Arizona’s Cottage Food Program allows individuals to make homemade products that are neither potentially hazardous nor ‘Time or Temperature Control for Safety’ (TCS) Foods and offer them for commercial sale, including at farmer’s markets. Examples include fruit jams and jellies, dry mixes, roasted nuts, honey, cookies, breads, cakes, pies, brownies, fudge, roasted coffee beans, candy, muffins and more. The state does require program registration, food handler training, and labels.
According to Terrell, “The county does not impose any event fees for farmer’s market Cottage Food vendors; however, they must comply with the state requirements. Vendors who elect to provide samples to customers must obtain a sampling fee ranging from $15 for one day up to $150 annually.”
Vendors who sell TCS foods are subject to the FDA, state, and county code and will be required to pay a fee and obtain food handlers certification, according to Terrell. “We are evaluating our fee schedule and coordinating practices with surrounding counties, but currently these vendors must pay for a temporary event permit ranging from 1 – 14 days at $40 to $75, or a four-month seasonal fee of $120. According to Terrell, “We may explore a more long-term option as well.” Non- TCS and non-Cottage Program food vendors are also subject to fees as mentioned above; however, they can choose to pay an annual fee of $350 in lieu of a shorter duration.
Mobile food establishments such as ice cream, hot dog, frozen meats, or full service trucks are subject to requirements and fees that are separate from farmer’s market vendors although they may participate at a farmers market provided that are licensed in SCC.
Under the proposed code, structural requirements for farmer’s market food vendors include, at minimum, overhead protection which could be an umbrella, a pop-up or permanent cover. Floors must be concrete, asphalt, wood or other cleanable material or dirt/ gravel when covered with a platform or heavy tarp. Vendors must have the capacity to erect walls when necessary to protect food from blowing dust, insects and other contaminants.
A three-bin ware-wash setup is required for cooking utensils and equipment unless sufficient quantities of food preparation and service items are available to prevent re-use if contaminated. Potable water must be available for hand washing, cleaning and sanitizing equipment.
According to Terrell, the specific structural requirements will depend on a number of factors to include the site conditions, weather, menu items, cooking and serving processes and the county will assist applicants to determine individual requirements.
Overall, the proposed SCC health code requirements for farmer’s markets is similar to both Pima and Cochise Counties. The fees for Pima and SCC are similar; however, fees are lower in Cochise County which are set at $50 for a onetime event and $100 for an annual permit.