Good Food means food that is:

Healthy - It provides nourishment and enables people to thrive

Green - It was produced in a manner that is environmentally sustainable

Fair - No one along the production line was exploited for its creation

Affordable - All people have access to it

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Top Regulator Explains Michigan Food Law

Michigan Good Food recently talked with state regulator Kevin Besey about the Michigan Food Law. Besey is Director of the Food and Dairy Division at the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. He heads up everything associated with food regulations in the state.

His current work includes an update of the Michigan Food Law, which the state Legislature will take up soon, and an overhaul of all the forms and web resources available to entrepreneurs, which Besey has made a top priority.



What is the Michigan Food Law?

The Food Law is the main law that requires somebody selling food to get a license. It also sets the standards for those licenses and establishes who needs a license and who does not.

There are around 65,000 places in the state that have to get a food license (from jelly makers to bread bakers, restaurants, grocers, and food stands at events and fairs). We train and oversee local health departments that handle most of the applications and inspections. The MDARD works directly on about 18,000 of the total 65,000 food licenses.

What happens when you review and update the Michigan Food Law?

First we review the federal Food Code, which makes up 99 percent of the Michigan Food Law. The Federal Drug Administration updates its Food Code every four years, with the most recent update being 2009. Even though most of our regulations are the same as federal regulations, we need to adopt it at the state level so we can enforce it at the state level. We also follow the federal law closely to ensure as much consistency as possible between federal law and state law.

Our review of the Food Law started over a year ago. The state’s 2010 Cottage Food Law exemption for home production of non-hazardous foods is an example of a change we’ve made to make regulations less burdensome for low-risk, smaller scale operations. Building on that experience we added a small business committee to our Food Law review process and invited more stakeholders than usual, including consumers and local food interests, to the table.

In addition to adopting most of the federal Food Code, the Michigan Food Law update will include some adjustments that help clear up often-muddy regulatory areas. It will exempt from licensure small egg producers that sell directly from their homes, for example, and it will draw a clearer line for farmers about when it is that food law regulations apply to on-farm activities.

Once we secure a bill sponsor, the resulting Food Law update will go to the Legislature as one package. Lawmakers will then hold committee hearings, which are an opportunity for people to comment on the bill and communicate with their legislators about it.

Speaking of eggs, people have a lot of questions about what it takes to sell eggs to local customers legally as a smaller scale producer. Can you clarify?

We recently put together a two-page overview for smaller scale producers (less than 3,000 laying hens) who may want to sell to a school, a local grocer, or such.

This group needs a license but the standards are not out of range for many farms. For example, egg washing needs to take place outside the home, but that can be done in an existing outbuilding as long as it has cleanable floors, some refrigeration, and hot and cold water. Inspectors can review what the farm has available and help determine what’s acceptable.

Farms that sell eggs directly from their home could soon be officially exempt from licensure if the pending update to the Michigan Food Law goes through the Legislature.

What are you doing to answer calls, from many directions, for food regulations that are easier for businesses to find and follow?

One of the things we’re doing is a major reworking of the web site so the steps for going into the food business are clearer and simpler.We have a work group, including representatives from the nonprofit Michigan Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS), working with us to make it so an entrepreneur can understand it vs. a regulator writing it. Our communications specialist’s wall is plastered with notes about flow of information, what to take out, what to leave in …

We’re also getting ready to revamp our “plan review” forms,which are more difficult than necessary, for both entrepreneurs and regulators.This will include eliminating instances where an operation needs to complete basically the same plan for three different agencies.

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