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Seedless mandarins to become market standard in Australia, says Freshmax exec

With small volumes of Sumo Citrus, Gold Nugget and Tang-Gold mandarins set to hit the market this season, Freshmax Australia is peeling ahead of the curve when it comes to consumer trends Down Under. But the company’s ambitious planting program includes an export strategy too, as GM for category and integrated supply Andrew Maughan tells Freshfruitportal.com.

With its “lumpy-bumpy” skin the Sumo Citrus-branded mandarin is a far cry from the smooth citrus normally seen at the supermarket, but that’s exactly the kind of point of difference Freshmax is looking for.

After all, Maughan says the company is now reaping the fruits of labor that has been ongoing for the last 10 years to grow and market protected varieties.

It’s a philosophy that spans a wide range of produce items under the group’s umbrella, and in citrus the big bet has been on seedless cultivars.

“We think that seedless easy peelers will become market standard in Australia in the not too distant future, and it’ll be non-negotiable to have seedless or very low-seeded fruit in this marketplace,” the executive says.

“In Australia we’re only just starting to get these seedless varieties into commercial volumes.

“There’s been exceptional growth in demand for easy peel and seedless fruit. It’s a rapidly growing category through North America, Europe and the U.K.”

Freshmax licenses the Sumo Citrus variety from Suntreat Packing & Shipping Co.in California, and the ultimate goal is to be a counterseasonal supplier back into the North American market while also working with the partner to aim for year-round supply into a variety of Asian countries.

Freshmax's Sumo Citrus-branded fruit

Freshmax’s Sumo Citrus-branded fruit

“This year we intend to be doing a few shipments in a small trial back into North America with both airfreight and seafreight. We did a little bit of airfreight last year, but that becomes cost-prohibitive when you start talking large volumes.

“We’ve commenced some small export programs into Southeast Asia, and done more work with developing export markets.

But with only around 25-30% of the 150 hectares of Sumo Citrus actually producing fruit, the bulk of volume will be staying in Australia for now.

“There are some trees that are just being planted now, so peak production is not going to hit with these current plantings for another four to five years’ time,” Maughan says.

“Sumo Citrus has ranged with Woolworths supermarkets in Australia for the last three years – it’s been exclusively through that retailer up to this point of time.

Going for gold

In mid-August, Freshmax will also start supplying another rough-skinned mandarin variety called the Gold Nugget.

“The Gold Nugget is quite a unique looking bit of fruit. It’s a later season maturing variety that’s gone away from the typical easy peelers going around.

Gold Nugget easy peelers

Gold Nugget easy peelers

“It does have a coarse textured skin. Initially it was a real negative or challenge to the variety as it’s not that smoother, fine-textured skin.”

When trees are in the juvenile stages, as many are now with 20% of the 100 hectares in production, the fruit tends be lumpier.

“But once the tree gets a little older it does settle down and produces a smoother piece of fruit. It is lighter in color than an Afourer or a Murcott is, but it creates a really good marketing point of difference,” Maughan says.

“It doesn’t have the top knot and it’s not as lumpy as Sumo Citrus is, but it’s certainly quite a coarse piece of fruit that is very unique.

“What’s good is you can have Afourer or Murcott on the shelf and have Gold Nugget on the shelf at the same time, and have a very easy distinction and point of difference. It’s seedless, it has an exceptional flavor – very sweet – and it’s a great eating piece of fruit.”

As there are currently only small volumes, Freshmax will probably only be selling the Gold Nugget variety over a four to five week window.

“It won’t be in every supermarket in every state at this point of time, but in time it’ll have the ability to be in the marketplace for a few months at least.

“And depending on production in the later areas that could give us some category extension for supply. You’ve got a fairly big window for maturity from harvest so you’re not pigeonholed into a small time window…it has good shelf life as well.”

The Gold Nugget is a product of the University of California breeding program, and is genetically seedless unlike the Tango – registered as Tang-Gold in Australia – which was bred to be seedless through the irradiation of budwood.

Freshmax is an Australian licensee for Tang-Gold as well, and Maughan is particularly bullish on the variety’s future.

“For Tang-Gold we have our first little bits of small-scale commercial volume this year, with a dozen or so pallets, but those pallets are going to grow very significantly and quickly,” he said.

“There will be 400 hectares of Tang-Gold in Australia, tree caps have pretty much been filled and tree plantings are going on pretty seriously now.

“Over the next two to three years we’ll see the vast majority of those hectares all planted. In five years’ time that’ll be a pretty significant player in this market.

Maughan highlights Australia’s geographical advantage for exports of all three of these varieties into Asia, and also how Australia’s diverse range of geographies and micro-climates allows for a long citrus production window.

“Within Australia there are several different growing regions which gives us the opportunity to have a pretty long window of supply – Queensland in the northern area which has been a traditional mandarin growing area is earlier.

“We anticipate that Tang-Gold grown in northern Australia will be in the market sometime in May and we’ll go to the southern parts of Australia that are traditionally Navel-growing areas, and we think it’s possible to have fruit harvested right through to October.

“We think there are opportunities with Tang-Gold from the domestic market perspective where we can range product for five months, and there will be a market for certain export markets,” he says, emphasizing Freshmax is still assessing where they will be, but there will be significant supply for U.S. and Canadian importers.

Looking at the overall situation, Maughan says seedless Tang-Gold will most likely be the main easy peeler cultivar, while Sumo Citrus and Gold Nuggets will occupy a different space in the market as IP varieties.

“Gold Nugget will be slightly more of a niche variety – it’s got that coarser texture to it. Sumo Citrus kind of sits in a different category; it’s larger, and it has exceptional eating quality.

“Tang-Gold will become what we believe will be the mainstream mid-to-late season easy peeler variety in Australia with very strong demand for counterseasonal supply into the Northern Hemisphere – the USA, Japan, Korea, China, Southeast Asia, the EU as well.”

www.freshfruitportal.com

 

FreshFruitPortal.com

Mexico to become top year round supplier

Greenhouse vegetables
Mexico to become top year round supplier

Mexico is well on its way to becoming the number one, year round supplier of greenhouse vegetables for the North American market. The technical, capabilities and ambitions of the Mexican growers are increasingly important. Nowadays it is hard to find a difference between a Mexican tomato versus a U.S. or Canadian grown piece of fruit. If it is up to Fried de Schouwer of GPC, Mexico will become the most important supplier on a year round basis for North America. “Our growers have become fully dedicated to delivering high quality produce, year round.”

Almost 10 years ago, Fried de Schouwer was one of the founders of Greenhouse Produce Company LLC (GPC); a joint effort by Mexican growers that was created in order to achieve a stronger sales organization and create better access to the market. By combining their unique strengths and neutralizing each others’ weaknesses, GPC is a more successful grower coalition which can better respond to US retailer’s demands.

“Thanks to the cooperation between smaller and larger growers, we are able to streamline the marketing of smaller Mexican growers”, Fried tells us when explaining the activities of GPC. “We work as a collective group; from selecting the right varieties to packing and shipping, all of our growers work closely together and benefit from each others excellence and expertise.”


Central packing warehouse

As an example, Fried tells us about the packing and shipping from the smaller growers. “We have growers that only produce a few pallets a day, but thanks to our logistical network, one truck can pick up several pallets from smaller growers and consolidate them at our central packing and coldstore facility in Celaya. This enables us to improve the quality of the pack.”

200 hectare

GPC currently has around 200 hectares divided over 25 growers. “We grow the full range of greenhouse vegetables in  both high tech and medium tech greenhouses; tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers. Around 15 percent of our current export is certified organic.”

According to Fried, the medium tech growers are able to grow a very good quality crop within a shorter season. “They are mostly located in a moderate micro climate where they simply do not need any high tech requirements such as glass greenhouses or full time heating. They are dedicated to certain production periods; for example 3 months of harvest in the spring and 3 months of harvest in advance of the colder winter period. In these seasons they are very successful. In the periods when it is too hot or too cold, the high tech growers are filling the gaps. That enables us to supply a consistent quality throughout the entire year.”


Top left: the team of GPC at the Expo AgroAlimentaria in Mexico last month. Bottom left and right side : At the show a large number of mid tech cultivations were on display. The quality of these crops was phenomenal.

Marketing niche: the medium to smaller retailer

GPC specializes in marketing  produce as a ’boutique’ like operator. “We try to add value through service by giving medium size growers market transparency and access to certain beneficial markets. We try not to compete with the larger produce marketing companies from Canada or the US and their affiliate seasonal Mexican growers. We are more committed to the Mexican growers wellbeing on a full-time basis.

The strategy that GPC applies has proven to be successful: everyday, 3-4 trucks collect small batches of produce at local growers, GPC packs and sorts the product at a central Mexican location prior to being shipped to a secondary quality control border warehouse either in Nogales, Arizona or McAllen, Texas, USA. All of the product gets a final packing, sorting and quality check before it is being shipped on to the final receiving customer.

Flexibility

The customers of GPC are all kinds of retailers; from national supermarkets, club stores, regional super markets to smaller super market chains with less than 50 stores. Regardless of the chainstore; the focus remains on consistency of quality produce.

According to Fried, the biggest advantage for retailers to buy from a small company like GPC is the personal touch. “We are a small player in the market who is able to add value through flexibility and personal attention. A retailer requires full attention from its suppliers, a personal touch combined with the necessary flexibility to facility the just in time delivery.  At GPC we are able to deliver the much needed flexibility by running the extra mile. In most cases, larger suppliers are not interested in fulfilling this need. Each supplier big or small needs to find its niche.”

For more information:
Greenhouse Produce Company
Fried de Schouwer (e-mail)
www.greenhouseproduce.net

Publication date: 12/8/2014
Author: Boy de Nijs
Copyright: www.freshplaza.com


FreshPlaza.com

Mexico to become top year round supplier

Greenhouse vegetables
Mexico to become top year round supplier

Mexico is well on its way to becoming the number one, year round supplier of greenhouse vegetables for the North American market. The technical, capabilities and ambitions of the Mexican growers are increasingly important. Nowadays it is hard to find a difference between a Mexican tomato versus a U.S. or Canadian grown piece of fruit. If it is up to Fried de Schouwer of GPC, Mexico will become the most important supplier on a year round basis for North America. “Our growers have become fully dedicated to delivering high quality produce, year round.”

Almost 10 years ago, Fried de Schouwer was one of the founders of Greenhouse Produce Company LLC (GPC); a joint effort by Mexican growers that was created in order to achieve a stronger sales organization and create better access to the market. By combining their unique strengths and neutralizing each others’ weaknesses, GPC is a more successful grower coalition which can better respond to US retailer’s demands.

“Thanks to the cooperation between smaller and larger growers, we are able to streamline the marketing of smaller Mexican growers”, Fried tells us when explaining the activities of GPC. “We work as a collective group; from selecting the right varieties to packing and shipping, all of our growers work closely together and benefit from each others excellence and expertise.”


Central packing warehouse

As an example, Fried tells us about the packing and shipping from the smaller growers. “We have growers that only produce a few pallets a day, but thanks to our logistical network, one truck can pick up several pallets from smaller growers and consolidate them at our central packing and coldstore facility in Celaya. This enables us to improve the quality of the pack.”

200 hectare

GPC currently has around 200 hectares divided over 25 growers. “We grow the full range of greenhouse vegetables in  both high tech and medium tech greenhouses; tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers. Around 15 percent of our current export is certified organic.”

According to Fried, the medium tech growers are able to grow a very good quality crop within a shorter season. “They are mostly located in a moderate micro climate where they simply do not need any high tech requirements such as glass greenhouses or full time heating. They are dedicated to certain production periods; for example 3 months of harvest in the spring and 3 months of harvest in advance of the colder winter period. In these seasons they are very successful. In the periods when it is too hot or too cold, the high tech growers are filling the gaps. That enables us to supply a consistent quality throughout the entire year.”


Top left: the team of GPC at the Expo AgroAlimentaria in Mexico last month. Bottom left and right side : At the show a large number of mid tech cultivations were on display. The quality of these crops was phenomenal.

Marketing niche: the medium to smaller retailer

GPC specializes in marketing  produce as a ’boutique’ like operator. “We try to add value through service by giving medium size growers market transparency and access to certain beneficial markets. We try not to compete with the larger produce marketing companies from Canada or the US and their affiliate seasonal Mexican growers. We are more committed to the Mexican growers wellbeing on a full-time basis.

The strategy that GPC applies has proven to be successful: everyday, 3-4 trucks collect small batches of produce at local growers, GPC packs and sorts the product at a central Mexican location prior to being shipped to a secondary quality control border warehouse either in Nogales, Arizona or McAllen, Texas, USA. All of the product gets a final packing, sorting and quality check before it is being shipped on to the final receiving customer.

Flexibility

The customers of GPC are all kinds of retailers; from national supermarkets, club stores, regional super markets to smaller super market chains with less than 50 stores. Regardless of the chainstore; the focus remains on consistency of quality produce.

According to Fried, the biggest advantage for retailers to buy from a small company like GPC is the personal touch. “We are a small player in the market who is able to add value through flexibility and personal attention. A retailer requires full attention from its suppliers, a personal touch combined with the necessary flexibility to facility the just in time delivery.  At GPC we are able to deliver the much needed flexibility by running the extra mile. In most cases, larger suppliers are not interested in fulfilling this need. Each supplier big or small needs to find its niche.”

For more information:
Greenhouse Produce Company
Fried de Schouwer (e-mail)
www.greenhouseproduce.net

Publication date: 12/8/2014
Author: Boy de Nijs
Copyright: www.freshplaza.com


FreshPlaza.com

Mexico to become top year round supplier

Greenhouse vegetables
Mexico to become top year round supplier

Mexico is well on its way to becoming the number one, year round supplier of greenhouse vegetables for the North American market. The technical, capabilities and ambitions of the Mexican growers are increasingly important. Nowadays it is hard to find a difference between a Mexican tomato versus a U.S. or Canadian grown piece of fruit. If it is up to Fried de Schouwer of GPC, Mexico will become the most important supplier on a year round basis for North America. “Our growers have become fully dedicated to delivering high quality produce, year round.”

Almost 10 years ago, Fried de Schouwer was one of the founders of Greenhouse Produce Company LLC (GPC); a joint effort by Mexican growers that was created in order to achieve a stronger sales organization and create better access to the market. By combining their unique strengths and neutralizing each others’ weaknesses, GPC is a more successful grower coalition which can better respond to US retailer’s demands.

“Thanks to the cooperation between smaller and larger growers, we are able to streamline the marketing of smaller Mexican growers”, Fried tells us when explaining the activities of GPC. “We work as a collective group; from selecting the right varieties to packing and shipping, all of our growers work closely together and benefit from each others excellence and expertise.”


Central packing warehouse

As an example, Fried tells us about the packing and shipping from the smaller growers. “We have growers that only produce a few pallets a day, but thanks to our logistical network, one truck can pick up several pallets from smaller growers and consolidate them at our central packing and coldstore facility in Celaya. This enables us to improve the quality of the pack.”

200 hectare

GPC currently has around 200 hectares divided over 25 growers. “We grow the full range of greenhouse vegetables in  both high tech and medium tech greenhouses; tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers. Around 15 percent of our current export is certified organic.”

According to Fried, the medium tech growers are able to grow a very good quality crop within a shorter season. “They are mostly located in a moderate micro climate where they simply do not need any high tech requirements such as glass greenhouses or full time heating. They are dedicated to certain production periods; for example 3 months of harvest in the spring and 3 months of harvest in advance of the colder winter period. In these seasons they are very successful. In the periods when it is too hot or too cold, the high tech growers are filling the gaps. That enables us to supply a consistent quality throughout the entire year.”


Top left: the team of GPC at the Expo AgroAlimentaria in Mexico last month. Bottom left and right side : At the show a large number of mid tech cultivations were on display. The quality of these crops was phenomenal.

Marketing niche: the medium to smaller retailer

GPC specializes in marketing  produce as a ’boutique’ like operator. “We try to add value through service by giving medium size growers market transparency and access to certain beneficial markets. We try not to compete with the larger produce marketing companies from Canada or the US and their affiliate seasonal Mexican growers. We are more committed to the Mexican growers wellbeing on a full-time basis.

The strategy that GPC applies has proven to be successful: everyday, 3-4 trucks collect small batches of produce at local growers, GPC packs and sorts the product at a central Mexican location prior to being shipped to a secondary quality control border warehouse either in Nogales, Arizona or McAllen, Texas, USA. All of the product gets a final packing, sorting and quality check before it is being shipped on to the final receiving customer.

Flexibility

The customers of GPC are all kinds of retailers; from national supermarkets, club stores, regional super markets to smaller super market chains with less than 50 stores. Regardless of the chainstore; the focus remains on consistency of quality produce.

According to Fried, the biggest advantage for retailers to buy from a small company like GPC is the personal touch. “We are a small player in the market who is able to add value through flexibility and personal attention. A retailer requires full attention from its suppliers, a personal touch combined with the necessary flexibility to facility the just in time delivery.  At GPC we are able to deliver the much needed flexibility by running the extra mile. In most cases, larger suppliers are not interested in fulfilling this need. Each supplier big or small needs to find its niche.”

For more information:
Greenhouse Produce Company
Fried de Schouwer (e-mail)
www.greenhouseproduce.net

Publication date: 12/8/2014
Author: Boy de Nijs
Copyright: www.freshplaza.com


FreshPlaza.com

School Waivers From New Nutrition Standards Could Become Bridge to 2015

New language offered by the House Appropriations Committee would allow schools than can demonstrate economic hardship to obtain a temporary waiver from new nutrition standards for the upcoming 2014-15 school year. In 2015, the standards might undergo revisions.

Language released Monday by the committee said the waiver language was included at the request of local schools represented by the School Nutrition Association (SNA). According to USDA, however, the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act specifically forbids the agency from granting waivers from the new nutrition standards.

Congress is using budget language in an attempt to persuade USDA to grant waivers for the next school year based on economic hardship being created by changes in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).

Waivers are not universally popular.

“We are disappointed that the House Agriculture appropriations bill includes a provision that would weaken national nutrition standards for foods served in schools,” says Jessica Donze Black, a nutrition expert with the Pew Charitable Trusts. “While we commend the subcommittee for including grants to fund school equipment needed to serve healthy meals, it is unfortunate that the House would consider letting schools opt out of efforts to improve the health of children served through these programs.

“Promoting the health of the nation’s children must remain the top priority of the National School Lunch Program, just as it is for the vast majority of voters, who support strengthening nutrition standards in schools,” Black added. “We know that strong school nutrition standards are an effective strategy to prevent childhood obesity and the lifelong health problems it can create. We urge the House Appropriations Committee to drop this provision from the bill so that we may continue the progress that so many schools have made.”

SNA, however, said the bill contains language that simply allows schools with six months or more of operating losses to apply for a one-year waiver from compliance with costly meal pattern requirements.

“School Nutrition Association strongly supports establishing a one-year waiver process to provide temporary relief to school meal programs struggling to manage the cost of meeting school meal standards,” SNA President Leah Schmidt said.

“School nutrition professionals have been on the front lines working to improve school menus, offer a wider variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and encouraging students to make healthier choices in the cafeteria. However, since these standards took effect, more than one million fewer students choose school lunch each day, reducing revenue for school meal programs already struggling to manage the increased cost of preparing meals under the new standards,” she added.

Schmidt said a temporary waiver program would prevent more schools from dropping out of the National School Lunch Program entirely before Congress has the opportunity to review the standards as part of its reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act in 2015.

A recent government report showed that one million children and about 500 schools have dropped out of the NSLP since the 2010 law took effect. Most recently, an Illinois school district that took in almost $ 1 million a year from the NSLP decided to drop out over the new standards.

Pew, which lobbied for the 2010 changes, claims that 90 percent of the schools are meeting USDA’s updated nutrition standards for school lunches. U.S. Rep. John Kline (R-MN), chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, counters that by saying: “Being in compliance doesn’t necessarily mean everything is going well.”

Kline told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune the new standards most associated with First Lady Michelle Obama are a “very, very big overreach of the federal government.”

Food waste, student flight, and calorie restrictions are often mentioned as problems with the new standards. The need to turn back childhood obesity was the main reason the nutritional changes were made with ample bipartisan support in 2010.

Food Safety News

Spain: “Citrus sector needs to coordinate its activities to become more competitive”

Cristóbal Aguado, president of AVA ASAJA
Spain: “Citrus sector needs to coordinate its activities to become more competitive”

The Spanish citrus sector will remember this season as one of its worst nightmares, recording the lowest prices in recent memory in the case of oranges. It has hardly rained in the Spanish Levant since September, especially in Valencia, and although the conditions are certainly not the most ideal, “nobody imagined the consequences to be so catastrophic,” says Cristóbal Aguado, president of AVA ASAJA. “We have never suffered such severe quality problems or obtained such low prices.”

Clementines have not been as strongly affected, although some varieties have suffered physiological alterations, like the ‘bufat’ (separation of the skin over the pulp) and/or reached small calibres, but in any case oranges got the worst part, as they have been hampered by both notably small calibres and by the ‘clareta’ (splitting of the skin). “The earliest orange varieties reached better results in terms of quality, despite there being some problems with calibres, but those who waited for the fruit to ripen a bit more harvested a lower quality fruit, which entailed worse prices,” he explains.

The Valencian Institute for Agricultural Research (IVIA) is trying to determine the possible causes of the ‘clareta’, and although no results have been achieved yet, it has been suggested that it may be related to the soil’s properties.

When situations like this one arise, many producers start looking for alternative crops, and if such alternatives are not found, the lands are simply abandoned to stop losing money. “While in 2013, Valencia was the province with the highest number of lands abandoned, this year’s figures may be record-breaking,” says Cristóbal Aguado.

The citrus industry needs to coordinate its activities 

Representatives of the citrus sector have recently sent letters to the ministers of Economy and Agriculture and to the president of the Valencian Government, describing the current situation and requesting a series of fiscal and technical measures to be able to face the huge losses. They also asked for the cooperation of the town councils of citrus-producing municipalities. 

In a parallel effort, “we are trying to bring together all parts of the sector involved, from producers and cooperatives to traders and distributors, to agree on coordination initiatives to reach the market and on marketing strategies targeted to final consumers.”

Cristóbal Aguado is convinced that the Spanish citrus sector, with a production of over 6 million tonnes per year, “will have a better future if it adopts the strategies of other crops’ agricultural organisations, such as concentration of supply, which has already shown to be effective for both growers and all other parts of the chain. We are convinced that the solution is to work together instead of each having to fight its own battles,” he stated.

EC expected to enforce drastic measures against South African imports 

The Spanish citrus sector agrees in considering imports of South African citrus as a potential hazard, as they could potentially introduce a pest still unknown in Europe, the “Black Spot”. The EFSA also considered it a risk in its latest report. 

“We have been protesting for several years, as the disease is occasionally detected in South African shipments. So far, the sector has not been satisfied with the proposals from the EC, and the measures taken just when the South African citrus campaign was coming to an end were deemed insufficient,” he said.

“Right now the South African season is about to start and hopefully drastic measures will be taken in case of 5 “Black Spot” detections being reached.”

Publication date: 4/17/2014
Author: Juan Zea Estellés
Copyright: www.freshplaza.com


FreshPlaza.com

When Does a Cottage Food Law Become a House Food Law?

Last week on Food Safety News, Dan Flynn wrote an article discussing Virginia’s plans to loosen its cottage food laws. Cottage food laws are basically laws that allow small-time producers to use appliances in their homes to bake, cook, can, pickle, dry or candy certain low-risk foods for sale. By contrast, state laws require all other food producers to process foods in licensed kitchens.

According to Flynn’s article, some delegates in Virginia want to allow a broader range of producers to sell food under its cottage food laws. To some, this means more opportunities for small producers to generate income. To others, this may mean increasing the public’s risk of foodborne illness.

Both sides have valid points. The difference between producers who operate under cottage food laws versus standard food laws is the difference between building a cottage and building a house. Building a cottage is simpler, requires fewer materials, and is more affordable. Similarly, cottage food laws are for simple, low-risk and low-cost foods.

But when does a cottage become a house? As building plans become bigger and more complex, the structure eventually crosses the line from a cottage to a house. Similarly, as food operations grow, eventually they no longer qualify for cottage food laws.

Thus, the hard question is: Where should the law draw the line between simple, small operations and larger, more regulated operations?

What Do Cottage Food Laws Do?

Cottage food laws are designed to give the small guys a break. They allow small-time producers to try their hand at a food business without having to comply with onerous, expensive licensures and codes.

Because foods produced under these laws are exempt from certain licensures and codes, they generally only apply to low-risk foods. Low-risk foods are foods like breads, which tend not to pose risks of foodborne illness. High-risk foods are foods like meat, dairy, and eggs, which have a high risk of transporting foodborne illnesses.

A good indicator of whether a food can be sold under most cottage food laws is refrigeration. Generally, if a food requires refrigeration, such as a meringue pie, then it is high-risk and cannot be sold. But a baked good like a scone is probably OK. Note that while a scone may contain high-risk ingredients like dairy or eggs, it is still low-risk because it has been cooked at a high temperature and no longer requires refrigeration. However, scones that contain a perishable ingredient such as sausage are still high-risk.

Canned foods are another example of how cottage food laws work. Certain bacterial spores that live harmlessly in soil and water can, under conditions created by the canning process, produce a deadly toxin. This toxin causes botulism, a deadly foodborne illness. As long as the producer takes precautions such as cleaning utensils and canning at high temperatures, the risk of botulism is low. Additionally, the natural acid in some foods neutralizes botulism. Thus, canning acidic foods such as fruit, e.g. jam, under cottage food laws is usually allowed. But canning low-acidic foods such as vegetables and meat is generally not allowed.

For the most part, people who benefit from cottage food laws are producers who sell at farmers markets, farm stands, or other direct-to-consumer situations. Cottage food laws vary by state, and maybe even by county, but they usually limit where and to whom producers can sell their products.

Do Cottage Food Laws Make Sense for Food Safety? 

Cottage food laws help small-time producers make modest profits. They can help new or young producers get their food businesses off the ground, and they can help small farmers diversify and generate income.

Economics aside, some food safety advocates question whether exempting producers from standard processing requirements like licensed kitchens increases the risks of foodborne illness outbreaks. But, for the most part, cottage food laws pose few food safety concerns. Small producers have a fair amount of oversight and control over how food is made, so, as long as they make low-risk foods, it makes sense to allow producers to sell food without meeting onerous requirements.

But the bigger, more complex an operation becomes, the less cottage food laws make sense. For starters, when a producer has multiple employees, he or she begins to have less oversight. This increases the chances of mistakes — such as unwashed hands, unsanitized counters, spoiled ingredients, etc. Of course, hiring employees does not mean that safe handling practices will end, but it does increase the risks. And, if a producer can hire more than one employee, then that producer may be able to afford the fees and costs of complying with standard food regulations anyway.

Additionally, cottage food laws make less sense when producers are selling mostly to strangers. If a consumer buys food from a neighbor, friend, or even an acquaintance, then that consumer presumably knows enough about the operation to make an informed decision. But buying food from a vendor at a large farmers market or stand is a bit different. Consumers can ask questions and make deductions about whether the food has been safely prepared, but they are nonetheless taking a risk. In the case of simple, low-risk foods such as baked goods, it makes sense to allow these stranger-to-stranger transactions. But when foods start requiring more safe handling precautions — like low acidic canning — allowing stranger-to-stranger transactions probably makes less sense.

Some argue that, regardless of the level of risks, it is the consumer’s right to decide whether to take the risk. However, this argument is complicated by the fact that parents make most food decisions for their children, and children are the most susceptible to serious consequences, including death, from foodborne illnesses. In theory, the law tries to find a balance between parental rights and protecting the welfare of children. So, with this consideration in mind, it probably makes sense to limit cottage food laws to the sale of low-risk foods.  

Should States Expand Cottage Food Laws?

Many groups have called for an expansion of cottage food laws. These changes make sense if they encompass more small-time, simple producers. But no bright line exists between when an operation should fit under cottage food laws and when an operation is large enough to comply with regular state food laws. Thus, the difficult decisions will be how to deal with the in-between operations — those that are too large for cottage food laws but still too small to meet the fees and burdens of standard food laws.

States want to ensure that they do not extend cottage food laws to homeowners, e.g. producers that are large enough to meet standard food regulations. So to preserve these special laws for cottage dwellers while still accommodating the in-between operations, states might consider alternative solutions such as fee waivers, training programs, or discounted kitchen space for larger producers or higher-risk foods.

Some might argue that adjusting cottage food laws for these in-between operations is appropriate. However, it might make more sense to help bring larger, higher-risk producers into full compliance rather than tamper with laws designed for very small, low-risk producers. In other words, instead of relaxing cottage food laws to encompass in-between operations, states could instead provide other assistance to help them navigate the regulatory burdens of full food safety law.

Whatever the solution may be, at some point states probably need to draw the line between cottage dwellers and homeowners while still accommodating those in between.

Food Safety News