SIMCOE, November 21, 2014. The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit’s (HNHU) campaign to get farm gate vendors up to code has been a positive experience. Health inspectors, for the most part, found that vendors wanted to comply with the government regulations. “It was impressive to see how much local food processors care about their product and about the people who buy them,” said Adrienne Andrew, Program Manager for Environmental Health. “Some even took a proactive approach, approaching the HNHU when the campaign was announced to find out the steps to compliance.”
In the community, there was some misunderstanding about why the campaign was initiated in the first place. “One of the mandates of the Health Unit, as an organization dedicated to public health, is to ensure that the Ontario Public Health Standards are followed. These regulations about farm gate vendors are outlined in the Health Protection and Promotion Act and Ontario Regulation 562, Food Premises, which applies to every community in Ontario.” The prevention of botulism was a key concern when farm gate vendors are processing food with methods such as canning or preserving. Botulism is an illness caused by a toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. The disease begins with weakness, trouble seeing, feeling tired, and difficulty speaking, which can result in paralysis or even death. Improperly preserved food is the most common cause of food-borne botulism. The rate of botulism in commercially processed food is low largely due to food manufacturing processes outlined by public health and government agencies. “We want to maintain that low rate by ensuring that as the food market evolves and people diversify their food sources, those newer sources are processing food in a safe manner,” says Andrew.
While the farm gate vendors who are involved in small scale processing were the focus of the campaign, other community concerns about the regulations were brought up as a result. There was some confusion about exemptions- religious organizations, fraternal organizations and service clubs may be exempt from Ontario Regulation 562, Food Premises if written notice to event attendees is posted in a highly visible location informing that food being served did not come from an inspected food premise. A list of members from the exempt organization that provided food for the event must also be kept for traceability. For example, a church having a bake sale for the congregation and their guests would be exempt from the regulation as long as there was a posted sign indicating the offered food was not from an inspected food premise and a record was kept indicating which food items were provided by congregation members. Groups exempt from the Food Premises regulation must still comply with the Health Protection and Promotion Act and are also required to notify the HNHU of their intent to hold a special event involving the sale or offering of food. The public is encouraged to contact the HNHU for clarification on exemptions. “We welcome questions about the regulations because it’s important that people are aware of them and why they exist,” says Andrew.
Adrienne Andrew, Program Manager
Environmental Health Team, Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
519-426-6170 ext. 3216