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Woman’s Homemade Sauerkraut Highlights Cottage Food Fight in AZ

Sandy Boyce and her husband have been making homemade sauerkraut for years by fermenting cabbage purchased from local farmers near their home in Sedona, Arizona. Having long received praise from family and friends for her recipe, Boyce, the director of the nonprofit Verde Valley Community Supported Agriculture, finally decided in 2009 to start selling her specialty at farmers’ markets in the area.

Boyce’s ‘kraut was a hit, selling out each week — until her county health department promptly asked her to stop. Without testing her product, obtaining a food processing license, and making it all at within a certified commercial kitchen, Boyce couldn’t distribute her sauerkraut to the public according to state regulations.

Small-time home producers like Boyce have faced similar hurdles across the nation in recent years over restrictions placed on so-called ‘cottage foods’ — foods made at home and sold to the public. It’s a disagreement that pits state and local governments intending to protect public health against those who say it’s not the government’s job to dictate what they eat.

Back in 2009, when Boyce looked into how much it would cost to produce a season’s batch according to all the rules, she came up with an estimate of more than $700 in additional costs.

“When you sell it for $6 a pint, that’s a lot of sauerkraut,” she recently told Food Safety News. Selling 800 pints that season, she had made roughly $3,400 in profit after production costs.

Instead of throwing in the towel or forking over the dough in fees, Boyce decided to try something else. The following week, she began selling all of her sauerkraut as “for pet consumption,” to skirt the health department regulation.

“Even with the pet food label, I sold out every week,” Boyce said.

But the pet food maneuver didn’t last long, either. After the season ended, she received another stopping order — this time a cease-and-desist letter from the Arizona Department of Agriculture for selling animal feed without a license.

That was enough for Boyce. She decided to stop, though customers continued to ask how to get their hands on more sauerkraut.

Finally, two years after receiving her cease-and-desist letter, Boyce announced on her blog late last month that she planned to start distributing sauerkraut again — this time through $6 donations. Last week, she sold out of her first batch by distributing it through her Community Supported Agriculture program.

But whether Boyce gives it away for $6 or for free, state law still requires she follow all the guidelines, said Brian Supalla, program health manager for Yavapai County, which oversees the Sedona area.

As Arizona law stands, cottage food exemptions apply strictly to baked goods, as they pose no potential microbial threat. Processed fruit and vegetable products — even if fermented to eliminate pathogens, such as with sauerkraut — are off the table.

Farmers who sell products grown and processed on their own land, however, are also exempt from cottage food restrictions in Arizona. If Boyce grew her own cabbage and then used it to make her sauerkraut at home, Supalla said, she would be permitted to sell it farmers’ markets.

“I can sympathize with people like Boyce who are small-scale entrepreneurs trying to make some money on the side,” Supalla told Food Safety News. “It’s difficult to break even when you are not selling large amounts of product.”

If Boyce were to follow all the rules for selling her sauerkraut, Supalla said her expenses would likely include $50 for the one-time lab test and $269 for the annual food processor license. Yavapai County subsidizes part of the food processor fee, while other counties in Arizona can charge as much as $590.

But other counties don’t have the $137 special events fee that Boyce said she would pay to sell at each farmers’ market. Since she sold her sauerkraut at three different markets, that adds up to another $411.

Throw in another $200 estimate for the commercial kitchen time and $200 for a process verification, and annual fees could cut into Boyce’s $3,400 profit by as much as a $1,130, or 33 percent.

Boyce says that’s too high of a cost for government oversight on a food widely recognized as safe. U.S. Department of Agriculture microbiologist Fred Breidt, Ph.D., said in 2009 that when prepared correctly, fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut were safer than raw vegetables, as the fermentation process kills off any traces pathogenic bacteria that washing might leave behind.

Food Freedom

“These regulations are making homemade foods illegal and that’s an ethical problem for me and many people. It’s a food right problem, as well as an economic problem,” Boyce said. “With the economy the way it is, people are looking for more ways to make income. Lots of things grow here, so this makes sense.”

Boyce is part of the growing food freedom movement that takes a decidedly anti-corporate stance toward the food industry, supporting issues such as local agriculture and less-restricted raw milk sales alongside cottage food rights.

While around 30 states have adopted cottage food laws in recent years, like Arizona, the vast majority permit only a small range of items, generally limiting home producers to non-refrigerated foods like baked goods and jams. Some also place a maximum ceiling on profits.

In Michigan, for example, home producers can sell breads and other baked goods, jams and jellies, popcorn, dried herbs, cotton candy, dried pasta, vinegars, and assorted chocolate-covered foods such as pretzels or fruit — as long as their gross annual sales don’t exceed $15,000. The law also explicitly outlines whole categories of food restricted from sale, including meats, dairy products, canned fruits and vegetables, and — you guessed it — sauerkraut.

But what sort of repercussion might Boyce face for selling her product in the face of government regulation?

“We’re not hunting her down or tailing her when she leaves the house,” Supalla said. “We’re not going out of our way to find issues like this. If we happen to see a product being sold improperly, we try to talk to whoever’s selling it — take an educational approach.”

Supalla said that a lot of people selling cottage foods aren’t even aware of the rules at first, so most issues get resolved with a conversation. In Boyce’s case, Supalla said that a health department official observing her selling homemade sauerkraut again would issue her a notice of violation, something she also received back in 2009.

If the notice of violation didn’t dissuade her, the health department could consult with the county deputy attorney and county supervisors for guidance on how to handle the situation. The most extreme response could be to ask the Sheriff’s office to charge Boyce with a misdemeanor.

“That’s not an approach we have ever taken before and would not ever want to,” Supalla said, “but it would depend on how far everything went.”

Boyce maintained that she did not hold anything against the officials required to uphold the law — in fact, she said she has a cordial relationship with folks at the health department. It’s the law, she said, that needs to change.

To Supalla, the bottom line is that the minimum government oversight ensures a higher level of public health and helps officials trace the source of illnesses when outbreaks occur. When working with small-scale entrepreneurs, the health department tries to communicate the minimum legal standards required of them, he said.

But to Boyce, the issue of public health is almost nullified by the direct nature of consumer-producer sales.

“If I go to a farmer’s market and get sick from a farmer’s food, I know where they live. It’s absolutely traceable,” she said. “That’s not the case when you have factory-produced food. What we’re calling food safety and unsafe foods is upside-down. People being able to sell artisan foods, small scale, directly to the consumer — that is the safest food there is because that’s where there’s the most accountability.”

Until more develops, those in northern Arizona looking for illicit sauerkraut can find it through the Verde Valley Community Supported Agriculture for a $6 donation. As she says: All proceeds go to the Sandy Boyce Vacation Fund.

Correction: This article originally stated Boyce’s profits to be around $4,000 for the 2009 season after production costs. A recalculation puts that number closer to $3,400.

© Food Safety News
  • Melanie

    Moral of the story?
    “Food freedom” = GREED
    In a nutshell. This woman rakes in a clear profit of $4000 cash for each “batch” of stinkcabbage but flatly refuses to invest even one nickle in responsible entrepreneurial behavior. Is she Amish, or something?
    When she finally makes you sick with her product just try tracing her down, making her accept her accountability and forcing her to pay your doctor’s bills…good freakin’ luck with any of that. The most you will get will be a pantsload of absurd denials and the same contentious run-around she gives the AZ health department. Society isn’t being benefited by her belligerence so she wouldn’t be missed if she were locked up for 30 days, or so, to contemplate the virtues of having a care for the safety of customers she routinely overcharges.
    It takes all kinds, eh?

  • matt

    It is a difficult balance of personal choice-freedom and public safety. I wouldn’t accuse the small producer of greed-$4000 a year is nothing compared to what big agra-business is making. Often the huge producers have helped institute the health laws that eliminate their competition from small producers by making it prohibitively expensive for the little guys to compete with them. It seems everyone in this case was cordial and willing to listen to other viewpoints, the first step towards a rational solution.

  • Nathan

    Wait, you can’t have it both ways. If you want things labeled GMO-free, allergen declarations that can be backed up, compliance with sanitation standards to protect your kids etc etc…. Then yes, everyone has to comply. The only reason small mom&pop producers like this have had it easy in the past is because when an outbreak occurs (as they inevitably do with people uneducated in food science) they affect only a limited number of people.
    So what is it, do you want food freedom, or do you want ‘right to know’ products that are well regulated?

  • Minkpuppy

    The restrictions on fermented foods are actually pretty darn silly. When properly fermented, sauerkraut is probably one of the safest foods on the planet.
    Keeping the pH low and proper canning eliminates a number of pathogens. The pH check can be as simple as testing a batch of finished sauerkraut with test strips. I would think there’s a high correlation between the pH of the juices and the pH of the fermented cabbage. The pressure guages on canners can also be checked regularly if you can find the right person (which may be a problem depending where you’re at). I suspect the state of AZ was wanting very expensive lab tests that would basically tell them the same things.
    If Boyce’s methods are consistent everytime, her product quality and safety will be consistent. It only takes a few minutes to record the pH, temperatures and pressure and it adds very little to the production cost. That’s all the health department really needs to worry about.
    Considering the popularity of her product, I’m surprised Ms. Boyce hasn’t considered going “professional”. Why not turn that $4000/yr into $40,000?
    I have no problem purchasing high-acid canned foods like sauerkraut or tomato-based foods at a farmer’s market. Low acid foods like green beans or meat are a whole other matter–I’ll stick to the grocery store for those.

  • keep your guard up

    Blind trust is a nice polite social amenity but it has limits. Anyone who prides themselves on their prowess obstructing and evading health department regulations is someone who can be counted upon to figure out every unsafe niggling penny-pinching corner to cut on the product they are unloading on you and your family. I wouldn’t trust this Boyce person as far as I could throw her. She obviously has only her own profit in mind. Buyer beware! That’s how it is when shopping at farmers markets. There’s no quality control and you sure as heck aren’t going to be able to return bad product for a cheerful refund. Best to keep your wits about you when dealing with conniving fly-by-night operators like that.

  • Lawrence A. Oshanek

    I am well over 65 years old, except for being sewn (cuts) up I have never been required to seek medical attention … as a child, a boy and a young man in mid-western Canada where winter temperatures often exceeded -40. all most all of the food I ate was home raised … from pigs, beef and chickens (and the by products) and all vegetable were raised and processed by ourselves, including sourkraut … there were 12 of us. We dumped our human waste into the garden area in winter and always had a burning barrel which, after burning was simply dumped into the garden in various places as were the ashes from our wood stoves.
    No one had allergies or ever got sick from the food – in retrospect. I can assume cross contamination was a problem because we carried all of our water from a distance or used rainwater or melted snow and no one washed their hands every few minutes.
    We traded a lot of our food (fresh, canned or smoked) for other things and I recall no complaints that it made anyone else sick.
    All of my ancestors survived eating food which was in much worse condition then what I experienced.
    Some of those posting here need to get a bloody grip on reality.

  • Minkpuppy

    No blind trust here. I’m knowledgeable about food microbiology and processing techniques. Certain foods are just plain hard to screw up regardless of where they are sold.

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    Lawrence Oshanek, anecdotal evidence does not make good science–or good food safety laws.
    MinkPuppy, you used the operative term “properly prepared”. That’s really the issue, isn’t it?
    I would think this person would do better working with others to establish usable cottage food laws then playing these ‘hide from the government’ games. I would not be surprised if she doesn’t have problems with the IRS with the games she’s playing now.
    (I also would not conflate cottage food laws and raw milk, because there are two completely different laws guiding both.)
    Frankly, what you’ve detailed strikes me as workable, even as it now stands. At worst, a third of this person’s profits would go to fees at markets and testing and other requirements. That still leaves two-thirds profit, which actually is not that bad for a cottage industry.
    If she ramped up production–not to commercial levels, but more than what’s she’s producing now–the percentage would be even less.
    And if I read this correctly, she’s incorporating market fees into the overall costs–aren’t market fees a separate item that has nothing to do with the cottage food requirements?
    Seems to me this person is losing more money spending time trying to figure out how to work around the system, then she would by doing the necessary work within the system.
    Typical of the food freedom folks.

  • Nathan

    Wow Shelley, I think we found something we can agree on :)

  • Patti

    Wow, I’m not sure how this plight for “freedom of choice” got twisted around money and trust. I believe the point is being missed in the comments here. Frankly, I want to choose what I put into my body and the bodies of my family. I don’t need the government to protect me from myself. I am very capable of deciding on my own what is best for me. I am much more comfortable buying/trading for consumables from the producer face to face than from an industry that is in bed with the regulators that create the guidelines, in other words letting the fox guard the hen house.
    If Ms. Boyce or anyone else has goods to sell I want the choice to buy or not to buy. The current regulations do not allow for me to do that, and I don’t find it “greedy” of me (or Ms. Boyce) to put money into my local economy and feed my family the food that I trust.
    It is all about the freedom to choose – having the option – to get out of the big-box supermarkets. I want the choice to support my local economy, and I believe you should retain your right not to.
    Good on you Sandy for fighting the good fight!

  • Minkpuppy

    Shelley,
    Even though I am a regulator, I still see instances where regulations are overly and stupidly restrictive. If these regulations were written with some actual scientific backing and not knee-jerk reactions, people like Ms. Boyle wouldn’t feel compelled to go to such lengths to sell a safe product. The more red tape you create, the more people will attempt to go around it. Most food safety laws are not set up to encourage cooperation and compliance. Instead, they encourage black market dealings and stunts like this. When you couple that with bureaucrats that want to be jerk wads and pull power trips, its a recipe for disaster.
    Yes, she should have played by the rules but when the rules are not based on reality something needs to give. There’s a lot of faulty and just plain bad food safety laws on the books. These bad laws just sit their silently until something like this comes up. Hopefully, the Arizona laws will ultimately be updated because of the attention from this story.
    States need to get up to par with the current research and knowledge about various foods and fix the laws. FDA and FSIS need to do it as well. I’m expected to enforce regulations that have no scientific basis whatsoever. They were written decades ago following the “wisdom” of the time and haven’t been updated to reflect new technologies and what we know now. The 60 day rule in fermented cheeses is a classic example–compelling evidence out there that it may no longer be effective but FDA still enforces it and shows no interest in updating the regulation with something more appropriate.
    Honestly, something like sauerkraut or salsa is really hard to screw up. Naturally acidic foods like that need minimal processing to be safe and it can be done at home. You don’t need a big fancy commercial kitchen to do it. If the health department wants to check your kitchen, fine. But they shouldn’t force people to rent out or buy expensive equipment and spaces that really aren’t needed and do nothing to improve the safety of the product. Heck, most of the plants I inspect aren’t that fancy. They have the basics of what they need and still produce safe foods.
    Fermented foods like sauerkraut are all about the pH. The low pH restricts botulinum spore formation and pathogen growth. High-acid foods like sauerkraut don’t require fancy equipment to achieve a 12-D destruction because the acid and a hot-water canning bath does the job. So why the overly strict rules over selling it as a cottage industry? It doesn’t make sense to those of us that have experience with food chemistry and microbiology.
    I’m all for restricting the sales of low-acid canned foods as a cottage industry because home cannners/pressure cookers aren’t always sufficient to achieve a 12-D destruction on botulinum. Some folks have excellent pressure cooker/canners but those pressure guages and seals do wear out over time. It’s pretty common to see home-canned green beans or meats implicated in botulinum outbreaks. It’s just tougher to control the risks so the regs need to be stricter.
    I’m not a fan of raw milk either but I don’t think it should be banned outright. Some of the state laws are overly restrictive for milk and everything else. Why not just certify, monitor and inspect the raw milk but let them sell it outright without all the silly “at-the-gate” rules? The states can yank the certification of those that don’t produce clean milk and make a little money on the certification fees besides. The producer can also make an extra buck because they’re selling certified milk. If they try to go around certification or continue to sell it after their certs are revoked, then go after them. As it is right now, the laws are just begging to be broken and folks have shown that they’re willing to break them at the risk of their own health and their childrens. Fix the laws on books. Don’t make new ones.
    Considering how invasive some US laws are becoming, I’m waiting for the day that someone is charged with terrorism because they had the misfortune of accidentally poisoning someone with botulinum toxin after serving home-canned grean beans. It really is getting that ridiculous.
    Mark my words. It will happen if we continue to try to regulate every last little detail. We don’t need a stack of new laws and regulations that contradict and confuse what’s already in place. We just need to get rid of the bad ones and then update and fix the ones we already have on the books.

  • Minkpuppy

    Patti: It always comes down to money with some folks. In my eyes, it’s more about the so called risk of the food involved than personal freedom of choice issue. The AZ laws fail to recognize that other foods besides baked goods are safe to produce at home and sell to consumers. Because of that, people are skirting the laws. It doesn’t make what they do right, but the laws aren’t right either. Similar things are happening with raw milk but that’s a much more risky food and there has to be more stringent regulation there.
    Shelley: The business expenses in something like this aren’t always as straight forward as it seems. Did you consider that maybe her customer base isn’t large enough to increase her production to cover the costs? I’m sure she did. It isn’t feasible to make more product than you can get rid of in a small-scale seasonal situation like this. Let’s say she sells consistently sells 600 jars a year. What’s the point of making 1000 jars if she can’t sell it all? She just ends up deeper in the hole and still can’t afford the extra costs of lab tests, licenses etc. Plus, she has jars of sauerkraut going to waste that she’ll either have to throw away or donate.
    Another thing that is bothering me–Why is there automatically an assumption that Ms Boyce is not properly preparing her sauerkraut and endangering public health just because she’s bucking the ridiculously restrictive rules on a food that is recognized as safe? No reports of illnesses here folks–that’s a pretty good indicator that the product is OK.
    I know what it’s like to have to enforce rules that are ridiculous–I feel for the health officials that have to sit there and tell her no when they know better themselves. I’ve been there myself. We don’t have a choice about enforcing the regs on the books even if we and our bosses know they no longer have any merit.
    And isn’t it just awfully judgemental to accuse someone of being a greedy bastard? $3700/yr is hardly going to make her a millionaire. Ms. Boyce did start out trying to follow the rules and did quit selling for 2 years. She ultimately gave in to pressure from her customers, probably against her better judgement and some probably colossally bad advice about the donation/pet food thing.
    The AZ cottage law is not based on sound science based decision-making. Period. We’re going to see a lot more of this type of civil disobedience if government officials continue to play politics instead of rationally re-evaluating food safety regs.

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    MinkPuppy, our tax system is completely screwed up because it is full of the most bizarre exceptions, each based on serving a very minute audience.
    We can’t do the same with food rules, even if that means some niche food producers get caught up in what seems to be overly complicated procedures.
    Do we need to have a salsa rule for food safety? How about a pickled beets rule? Do we need to then create a rule for prepared foods that have a certain percentage of vinegar or lemon juice?
    How do we ensure that the product is a proper pH? Well, testing is one way, but then if you demand tests, someone somewhere will complain about having to perform tests.
    As for the low risk, I’m linking a PDF that actually demonstrates the food safety of sauerkraut is not a slam dunk. For one, a lot of people use older crock pots for fermentation that are lead based. For another, boy you do don’t do it right, you end up with making a lot of people sick.
    http://www.uaf.edu/files/ces/publications-db/catalog/hec/FNH-00170.pdf
    A better approach is to develop a simplified system where some foods, which are typically the product of the cottage food industry, meet a certain set of guidelines and other foods have to meet a different one. End of story.
    As for raw milk, there is no safety system in the rules–no procedures that can be guaranteed to make raw milk “safe”. Why? Because raw milk producers will never be more under the microscope than they are now, and we still have foodborne illness outbreaks based on raw milk. Sometimes we have outbreaks one after another, as happened earlier this year.
    If the raw milk producers can’t get it right with this scrutiny, my god, what will they do with less?
    Laws being overly invasive? I’m challenging this statement and this assumption. I’ve been following a case associated with the EPA for well over a year. The underlying case had people all up in arms about the ‘overreaching’ of the EPA. You start digging, though, and you find out that the so-called “victims” of the EPA are anything but, and the EPA is genuinely doing what it’s supposed to be doing.
    This was an eye opener for me. When you start scratching under the surface of most of the claims of “overregulation” and “overreaching” of the government, you find out there’s a lot more to the story.
    In many instances of David vs. Goliath, where Goliath is the government. David is a deceptive, self-serving jerk.
    I do believe laws should be consistent and have a sound purpose. Believe it or not, most organizations attempt to meet both these criteria. But then you have Congress interfering or a city council interfering or some idiotic governor putting in his two cents worth, chaos is introduced.
    Nowadays, I challenge anyone who says “we need to fix the system”, because chances are, there’s some greedy corporation behind the complaint, somewhere. A greedy corporation and a citizenry that’s too ignorant and just too paranoid.

  • Michele

    If our system needs fixing (and that is debatable) maybe we should start by purging from it the superficially opinionated anti-agriculture scabs who have infiltrated the USDA? Right here in this blog we have a so-called inspector with a real chip on his shoulder. If the new farm bill cut budgets and cleaned house it might not be the worst thing that could happen for food safety and agriculture here at home. Let’s start by fixing the easy stuff, the stuff that obviously is jaded and broken and threatening to fly apart.

  • Minkpuppy

    Shelley:
    You seem to have missed the point I’m trying to make. I’m not advocating exceptions. I’m talking about risk profiles of specific foods. We know a lot more now than we did 60 years ago. Don’t you think it’s about time the laws catch up to the science. I do. AZ’s asinine assumptions that only baked goods are safe to sell out of the house doesn’t fit the science and risk profile for the foods they say are not allowable. If you’re going to allow one low risk category, then allow them all. NO EXCEPTIONS!
    Food safety laws need to be based on the risk the food presents. It has nothing to do with the size of the producer or “exceptions” for certain groups. FSIS is moving towards risk-based inspection for that very reason. Inspection resources and enforcement needs to be focused on the riskiest foods and processors. For example, Sauerkraut is not a risky food and doesn’t need the same level of enforcement as a ground beef producer or cantaloupe.
    I’m part of the system on the REGULATORY side and I say it needs to be fixed. That should tell you something shouldn’t it? I got out of corporate crap years ago because I couldn’t sell that much of my soul. Seriously, it was like dealing with the devil. Now I’m the one that has to figure out what these ridiculous regs mean and enforce them and I’m tearing my hair out because my bosses can’t figure it out either. It’s a freaking nightmare.
    Adding more and more regulations without removing the obsolete regs is foolish–remember the tax code and how convoluted that is? Same thing in the food codes. Right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing and the laws are being written by politicians that know nothing but are more than happy to kiss their donor’s butts.

  • Patti

    I think I’ll go have a big glass of fresh cold raw milk and tink all this over!

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    MinkPuppy, I do understand what you’re saying.
    I’m not against refining laws, or getting rid of laws that are obsolete. Unfortunately what happens with regulatory bodies is that changes to law come about because one special interest group or another pressures one or more political leaders into modifying the law–and frankly, no for the better.
    Changes also come about because regulatory bodies have had their budgets slashed, and slashed again. Starving food safety regulatory bodies does not make for a strong regulatory system.
    So I do know what you’re saying, but I don’t think you’re giving my comments the same attention. For instance, the link I embedded is to a document that demonstrates that what may seem like a safe, low risk food is, in actually, not all that safe or low risk. It’s only safe and low risk when everything is properly done. How to ensure everything is properly done? Rules and regulations.
    Arizona’s cottage food law is relatively new–only a little over a year old. The state is making an effort to simplify rules for the cottage food industry, but doing so at a level it feels it can safely support. At this time, it can support baked goods. At a future time, it most likely will open up simpler cottage food laws for other types of food.
    The state isn’t being stupid, it’s being cautious. I support its caution. When it comes to food safety, I am there with the “better to have living people complain about you than to have dead people haunting your sleep”, mindset.

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    Case in point on congressional interference in laws is a recent bill the House Transportation committee just passed to the loor that would ban the EPA from using flights to investigate CAFOs for CWA (Clean Water Act) violations.
    I had to share it, it’s just too good not to share.
    Not only would the bill ban the EPA from using planes for inspection (which happens to save the government thousands of dollars), the bill would prohibit the EPA from using publicly available satellite imagery.
    In other words: the EPA couldn’t use Google Maps.
    Google Maps.
    Priceless, absolutely priceless. You can’t buy stupid this good.
    So, I do agree with you about politicians making stupid laws. Oh my yes, agree 100%. I just don’t agree with you that Arizona’s law is stupid.

  • http://www.phfspec.com Peter Cocotas

    It’s not just risk analysis. The purpose of inspections is also to determine if there are other sources of adulteration-insects, cross contamination, in home chemicals, allergens, etc.- and if the people performing critical tasks are properly trained and competent. Any low risk product can become a hazardous product if people don’t understand what the risks are.

  • http://www.sandysproduce.com/ Sandy Boyce

    What has struck me about these comments is their mean-spirited tone, resorting to name-calling and vilifying someone who would dare question the wisdom of the current regulations. Farmers and artisan food producers are portrayed as unhygienic ignoramuses trying to make a fast buck.
    I am the co-founder and director of our local CSA (community supported agriculture) and, as a volunteer, I buy from most of the farmers in Northern Arizona. All of them must have second jobs off the farm to make a living. They are schoolteachers, firefighters, ceramic artists, microbiologists. They have children who are veterinarians, college students and executives at tech start-ups. They donate food to the local food banks, are members of their city councils and invite local school children to their farm to learn about growing food.
    We are quite capable of growing and producing safe food, indeed many of us have been doing so for generations.
    What we need is a rational, fact-based conversation about how to support our local food growers and free them from onerous regulations. After hearing from our regulators and inspectors, believe me, I don’t want them to have anything to do with my food choices.

  • Estelle

    Sandy – Your own attitude regarding regulators, inspectors, and “factory-produced foods” leaves a little something to be desired. You are angling for attention, don’t expect all of it to be flattering. Most of us are not impressed by your uppish scofflaw entrepreneur schtick. Making it about the money doesn’t help your case, doesn’t exactly inspire blind trust in your dedication to customer safety.

  • http://www.sandysproduce.com Sandy Boyce

    Estelle, you have demonstrated my point perfectly. In what way do your pronouncements contribute to improving food policy?

  • catty

    Food safety is a side issue here. The main issue is freedom. What are we allowed to do? Who decides?
    If you think farmers’ markets are hotbeds of poison and greedy entrepreneurs, then by all means avoid them. Go to the grocery store instead. It’s a free country.
    For those of us who would choose otherwise, either on the buying or the selling end, who are you to tell us we can’t?
    Life is dangerous. Should you be forced to stay inside unless you have a government-issued escort walk you to your car? After all, you might trip! Or should that be your choice?
    I’m a graphic designer. Some people have no aesthetic taste at all. It’s terribly offensive and it gives The Children all the wrong ideas. So let’s pass a law: no more designing your own Christmas cards, and for crying out loud NO more choosing your own clothing. From now on you have to have a professional do it. You wouldn’t want to offend anyone, I’m sure, so this law is the right thing to do. Right.
    People who shop at farmers’ markets know they’re not buying factory-processed food. In fact, that’s why they shop there; it’s what they choose. It isn’t your place to force them to live by your standards, any more than it’s their place to do the same to you.
    Some things are the government’s business. Most things aren’t. A government that you can sic on everybody you disagree with is a government that others can sic on you. For all our sakes, let’s keep it as small and far away as possible. And as inexpensive, and as focussed on the things we really need it to do.
    You stay out of my business and I’ll stay out of yours, and we’ll all get on with our lives as we choose to live them.

  • lostalbatross

    A few thoughts from the regulatory side of things:
    If everyone should have the freedom to make foods at home not only would Ms. Boyce’s kraut be okay, but so would Jose’s, ice chest in the trunk, burritos and tamales. Not everyone knows what they are doing. Where do you draw the line. I have seen jerky that was sun dried on the roof of a chicken coop being sold at a farmers market. I have also seen home canned products that look like they were dug out of an abandoned mine, with no caps or ring seals, just wax. I watched a farmer clean his finger nails with his pocket knife, wipe it off on his boot and then use the same knife to cut off a melon sample for a customer. I had request for approval to dry emu jerky by hanging it in an attic. Not everyone knows what they are doing.
    Maybe all the laws don’t make perfect sense. Maybe changes could be made. But you can’t make those changes at a local level, you have to go to the state lawmakers to get things changed. Mr. Supalla seems to have given Ms. Boyce all the information she needs to reduce her costs (grow your own cabbage so you are covered under the ag laws, no commercial kitchen, no special event fees), and she only needs to have the product tested once, so thats not a continuous cost. I think her efforts would be better spent trying to change the laws rather than just thumbing her nose at the local health department.

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    Catty, I’m not sure if you checked out the title of this site. Anyway, food safety is never a side issue. Never.
    lostalbatross, agree with you 100%.

  • Amorette

    If someone gets sick from the sauerkraut and and sues, she will lose a lot more than a few fees. Sure, sauerkraut is acidic but I have made the stuff and it can go wrong. Botulism is not pleasant and often fatal.
    Food safety rules may need to be modified but not ignored or we are back to the days of everyone knowing someone who died from food poisoning.

  • http://www.sandysproduce.com Sandy Boyce

    Dr. Fred Breidt of the USDA said in a 2009 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, “With fermented products there is no safety concern. I can flat-out say that. The reason is the lactic acid bacteria that carry out the fermentation are the world’s best killers of other bacteria.” Breidt adds that fermented vegetables, for which there are no documented cases of food-borne illness, are safer for novices to make than canned vegetables.
    Obviously, we are all committed to food safety. But current regulations do not effectively address food safety. I recently met with representatives of the USDA, FDA, AZ Department of Agriculture, Yavapai County Health Department executives, and a County Supervisor. The farmer’s market managers in our county and I had agreed upon these recommendations to the current regulations:
    Product must be made in a licensed kitchen, unless the food is grown on my own land. This makes no sense. How is a farm kitchen safer than my kitchen? And how is the VFW kitchen, licensed by the health department, safer than my kitchen? Rules should be consistent for all food producers, and the licensed kitchen requirement should be eliminated.
    Special Event Fee of $137 for each farmer’s market attended, unless food is grown on my own land. Again, this does not address food safety, is inconsistent and simply raises revenue for the health department. We recommend eliminating the Special Event Fee.
    One-time lab testing of pH level (cost is $50). We suggest at-home pH testing of every batch, with results available at venue.
    Process verification by a process authority (cost is $200). We suggest submitting the process to a health inspector who should be familiar enough with the food he/she is inspecting to know if the process is safe.
    We support the requirement of attending a food handling class.
    All our recommendations were rejected.
    I do not have issues with the IRS, nor do I clean my fingernails with a pocket knife. When I realized I wasn’t going to make millions selling sauerkraut, I kept my day job as a transportation demand management specialist.
    The point is that current regulations do not make our food safer. There have been plenty of laws that did not serve our citizens–the Jim Crow Laws, Prohibition and not allowing women to vote all come to mind. When we see something that is so obviously unethical and ineffective, we have a moral obligation to speak up and change it.

  • Ted

    Jim Crow laws? Women voting? How, exactly, does angry incoherent railing against food safety regulations measure up in any way, shape or form to hard-earned social progress in civil rights and women’s suffrage?
    Foodies tend to be the most self-absorbed, out-of-touch drama queens imaginable. You really mustn’t take yourselves so damned seriously. The rest of us certainly don’t. It’s sauerkraut, for pity’s sake!

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    Sandi, I believe what Breidt said is, “There are no known cases of people getting ill from properly fermented products.”
    The key phrase to take away from this sentence is “properly fermented”. That’s the point some of us have been trying to make in this thread.
    I noticed you wrote a post at your site about this article and the comments. I wouldn’t be overly offended at what some of the commenters write. Some commenters here at FSN attack most people who don’t agree with them (or the organizations they support, such as large agribusiness concerns).
    As for the rest of us, the thing is, we don’t know you. We don’t know anything about your operation. We don’t know if you use lead pots for fermentation. We don’t know if you used proper fermentation techniques and if we’re taking a risk of botulism eating your food. All we have, is whatever minimum requirements are set up in Arizona that control your product.
    You say that you’re obviously committed to food safety–but how do we know? We don’t know you. That’s the whole point on food safety rules–you don’t have to personally know your supplier. And no, buying a jar of food from you at a stand at a Farmer’s Market really isn’t a way of “knowing” you.
    Of the items covered in your meeting with state officials, my take:
    The commercial kitchen most likely is inspected, and has to meet specific rules as to equipment and processes. That’s actually a very understandable rule.
    Your question about why farms don’t have to follow this rule is a good one. But I imagine the reasoning is that the product producer can verify the safety of the end product all the way through the supply chain. Farmer grows the berries made into the jam sold by the farmer: not a lot of moving parts to introduce contamination.
    But when you buy the produce used to make the end product, then new variables are added. For instance, the pages here are full of stories about cantaloupe contaminated with salmonella. Yes, issues related to the raw produce shouldn’t matter with your product because it’s fermented–but it would matter with other products. Do the laws then need to be changed to reflect each product, or type of product? Perhaps…but it does demonstrate that the issues aren’t always as simple as they may seem.
    I did look up the requirements for the Prescott Farmer’s Market. According to the page, everyone has to pay the fee if they sell processed foods–not just non-farmers.
    This is based on the requirement from the Yavapai County Health department, which requires a Special Event Permit for anyone selling food or drink at an event. So farmers who give away free samples of food, as well as anyone selling processed foods or drinks has to get this permit (and pay the fee).
    This fee is used to fund the department that does inspect the processed products at these events.
    If I understand this correctly–and I am looking at the web sites directly involved–then this fee is perfectly understandable. And consistently applied.
    Yet you’re saying that this fee isn’t charged if the processed food is made on a farm? Can you provide a link to the page detailing this exemption?
    In addition, this requirement is at the county level, not the state level. It has nothing to do with Arizona’s Cottage food laws, at all. You’re conflating all your various department requirements, and that makes it difficult to understand what’s happening.
    I imagine the lab test is for external verification–it’s not up to consumers to do the work of professionals. I don’t what a safe level of pH is, or whether you properly applied the pH test.
    And your suggestion about process verification–it sounds like what you’re suggesting is what they have, but you say they rejected it. I must be misunderstanding your concerns on this one. Anyway, the process inspection would catch the use of lead-based containers used for fermentation and the link, and seems perfectly reasonable.
    Nothing you have written has necessarily demonstrated that the Arizona rules are a byzantine morass representative of government gone amuck.
    Everything you describe does demonstrate to me at least an attempt at making the food safer.

  • http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2012/08/womans-homemade-sauerkraut-highlights-cottage-food-fight-in-az/#.UDWxpMGrbJJ tarad

    There are just as many unknown variable at major food manufacturing plant and restaurants. I went to a grocery store and brought a dinner of chicken, mashed potatoes and something else. The man behind the counter wiped his dirty looking sweaty brow with his hand and then put my food together. Ick. And the law allows unagreeable items to be in food produced by the safe food manufacturing companies: (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-20013038-10391704.html. The he FDA rules that “it is economically impractical to grow, harvest, or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects.”
    Further, FDA spokesperson Ira R. Allen tells CBS News that the FDA “applies its resources to protect the safety of the American food supply based on risk assessments of health hazards.
    The government sets “limits for naturally occurring contaminants that are unaesthetic but in most cases not hazards to public health,” he says. “When these levels are exceeded, FDA can and will take regulatory action — immediately if any disease-causing microbes are present.”
    I always thought vegetables and fruits were safe but how many big Agra-company’s have had major state/federal/world-wide outbreaks of food borne illnesses. Why do the big companies have a different set of rules. Maybe because they can afford the lobbyists to set up the rules and the money to back the politicians.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ElinaPelikan Elina

    Brilliant idea – sell it as potpourri – not for eating – might even want to play with a label for it that looks like poison and suggest leaving it in a bowl to freshen up your room :-D

  • nikita

    So I have to pay more for food because some liberal wants to protect me? Ever heard of freedom?
    I was fascinated when people bitched about 3400$ profit. Btw it looks petty when you round it up to 4000. You realize her time input is not factored into the profit? She probably can make more than that just working.
    If you liberals are so concerned about food safety why don’t you do something about it instead of being hypocrites. Spend your own money for a rating agency, or learn how to rate food and do it your self. Don’t expect innocent people to fund your crazy life style.

  • http://www.dieti.mk/ dieti

    No body can tell me what I am doing in my house if I do not posess treat to others. We are making sauerkraut in my home for a generations. No boddy can tell me that industrial food is better than home made, home preserved and home grown…

  • Mick

    Are you guys serious?
    You talk like she’s making a ton of money or something? So take 33% of profits for health laws, then at least another 15% for taxes that she has to claim, and what is she making per hour at $6 a jar?? Come on, be realistic! These people are coming to her asking for her food. So she sells it. If I had people coming to eat my cookies left and right, I would have to start charging. She’s not selling at grocery stores for crying out loud..and they clearly stated that it is safer than eating raw veggies. Calling her greedy or unsafe is taking a position on an internet soapbox. Regulation is needed, but some of these laws clearly are not. I can’t drink regular milk. But do you know how hard it is to find raw milk?? Try it sometime. And then you’ll also clearly see why it’s as expensive as it is. Most people think they get the cold and flu when it is actually food poisoning. At least if it came from raw milk, I would know the source!

  • http://www.matfysik.wordpress.com A-K from Sweden

    Mick, great post!
    It’s sauerkraut, you would have to do really nasty things to it for it to harm anybody the slightest. Realize that some foods are generally regarded as safe, that label is not something distributed lightly, and try to promote these activities instead of hampering.
    No, to dead sterilized foods, Yes to health promoting foods, enzyme rich, non processed once.
    Sauerkraut is in essence both a prebiotic, probiotic and spares the body energy for dealing with e.g. amyloid plaque build up in the brain that cause type two diabetes, Parkinson, Alzheimer and a long range of diseases, that this days diet of higher then 5% sugar and enzyme deficient food..

  • Val

    Shelly, If people can’t be trusted to make things at home to sell at a farmers’ market, why can they be trusted to make things at home for their own consumption, or for their children or friends?
    If what you say is true then there should be a blanket ban on any food that is not tested or produced in a commercial kitchen with proper licensing.

  • Holdorfold

    There’s a simple solution here. She put up her prices to cover the regulation fees, problem solved. According to her supply and demand she can afford to do that.

  • conrad

    what if she did not can it but took it right out of the crock at the market and put it in plastic bags and sold it like that ? as fresh kraut unrefrigerated till you take it home then you do with it as you like,,freeze or can yourself….i’m studdiing on it myself,,,conrad