Special by Mirror Health and Food Editor Karen Gay
How many of you think the title of this article is inflammatory? I certainly do! The problem is that I reached out to Delegate Bloxom twice over the course of 5 days and received no reply to my question about why he voted as he did. Had he called back, perhaps I could have entitled the article “Delegate Bloxom Votes for Food Safety” or more realistically “Delegate Bloxom Chooses Safety Over Entrepreneurship in Cottage Food Debate,” if, in fact, safety was his concern. I am hoping that the title of this article gains his attention and that perhaps he will respond in comments as to his position. I also welcome comments from all sides as each of you has a right to your opinion. The nice thing about civil public debate is that sometimes positions are swayed, and we all get a chance to understand the mind of others.
Virginia’s senators and delegates are holed up in Richmond deciding on new bills. I’ve been to several lobbying and committee sessions in past years hoping that our representatives would give the little guy a break. However, incremental changes are occurring at a snail’s pace.
As many of you know, I am a chapter leader for Weston A. Price Foundation. We believe in eating the whole foods that kept our ancestors healthy. We avoid additives and processed food because we can see their impact on people today. However, we do encourage small food producers who cook out of their own homes because this food is often more healthful than what we buy at the Food Lion. We are also aware that there are many people who live life on the edge of financial ruin. If these people could make their traditional foods in their own homes and sell them to their neighbors this could make a huge difference for them and their children.
It is with these thoughts in mind that the Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association (VICFA) has been lobbying our senators and delegates each year to open windows of opportunity for our neighbors. This year they put forward House Bill (HB) 1785. This bill would
- Increase the sales limit on pickles from $3000 to $4000 per year
- Allow baked goods such as homemade quiche, macaroni cheese pie, pumpkin pies, chicken pot pies, and other poultry products to be available for sale
- Allow homemade yogurt to be sold to the end consumer.
Currently, people may make foods in their own homes that do not require time and temperature control (TCS). Safety issues may arise when food is not cooked to the recommended minimum internal temperature, not held at the proper temperature, and/or not cooled or reheated properly. VICFA asked our representatives to grant a vote of confidence to both home food entrepreneurs and consumers.
I spoke to Anne Buteau, the President of VICFA, and she indicated that all products coming from a home kitchen must be labeled as Not Inspected. “This way, consumers can use their considerable judgement as to whether to purchase a product or not. I’ve always believed that purchasers are smarter than our representatives give them credit for. If a food producer has one safety problem, then his or her business is ruined. In many ways, the small producer has more at stake than someone who works in an industrial food operation.”
At Monday’s (Jan. 14th) Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources (ACNR) subcommittee meeting, this bill passed 5 to 3. Unfortunately, Delegate Bloxom was one of the Nays.
Because HB 1785 passed the subcommittee, it was scheduled to go to the full ACNR committee on Wednesday morning after much discussion and substantive changes to the main bill. The bill hit this committee and it was deep sixed for good when the vote was Yea – 5 and Nay – 17.
I didn’t hear the debate in committee, but I am guessing that it centered around safety and there were anointed members of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) and the Department of Health to tell everyone how dangerous this bill would be. The reality is that the food you get from restaurants is just marginally safer than the food you might get from the average kitchen. The difference is the required food safety courses that are required of people working in commercial kitchens. Anyone can take these courses and they are offered at the Eastern Shore Community College. In the two seasons that I made traditionally fermented sauerkraut, my process was inspected just once, before I even made my first batch. Although I was obligated to maintain a record of the pH each time I made sauerkraut, it was never reviewed by any authority. Our few health inspectors work hard to prevent foodborne illness, but the real responsibility lies with each person who makes food. It is clear that our delegates do not believe that the citizens of Virginia are capable of taking on this responsibility. What do you think?