WDA hears food safety rules comment at public meetingsWritten by Saige Albert
“This meeting is to discuss the changes to the food rules that have caused some concern and the misunderstanding about them,” said Dean Finkenbinder, WDA manager of Consumer Health Services. “Every four years, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) updates their food code, and we are trying to keep up with the latest scientific information.”
While a number of changes have been made to the Wyoming Food Safety Rule, three particular updates have caused concern, including the inclusion of cut leafy greens as a potentially hazardous food, addition of a new chapter on egg grading and raw milk rules.
Finkenbinder explained that every four years, the FDA works to update their food code to reflect the latest scientific data. The most recent update occurred in 2009, and the WDA developed their rules to reflect FDA’s changes.
While the Wyoming Food Safety Rules are not required to be based around FDA codes, Representative Sue Wallis of House District 52 noted, “In 2000, the Wyoming Legislature dissolved the existing Wyoming milk and meat statutes and adopted the FDA food rules.”
“We use the FDA’s food code as a pattern to keep the latest scientific information reflected in our rules,” Finkenbinder added. “We are not bound by law to do that, however.”
In light of an increasing number of outbreaks of food borne illness related to leafy greens, including lettuce and spinach, cut leafy greens were added to the list of potentially hazardous food. As a result, producers wishing to sell cut leafy greens would be required to have an inspected facility to prepare the product.
“It has been determined that when the leaf itself is cut into small pieces, it supports bacteria and can cause food borne illness,” explained Finkenbinder, noting that the rule is also consistent with FDA regulations. “If you want to sell cut leafy greens to a restaurant or grocery store, they would have to have proper facilities that are inspected.”
However, rules for the sale of whole leafy greens – those that are simply harvested and washed – remain unchanged.
“Usually, greens are cut at the surface of the ground, cleaned and sold,” he mentioned, adding that some groups of producers are beginning to work together to determine the best way to handle cut leafy greens. “These rules only affect when the leaf itself is cut into small pieces.”
Egg grading chapter
A chapter was also added to the Wyoming food rules providing small producers the opportunity to sell graded eggs to restaurants.
“The new chapter on egg grading will allow the small egg producer to candle and grade their eggs and sell them to restaurants,” Finkenbinder explained. “Currently, people can sell ungraded eggs at farmer’s markets, roadside stands, from their homes or even in grocery stores.”
In order to qualify to candle and grade eggs, producers must have an egg candler and a sink for washing eggs that is separate from the home kitchen sink.
“There is not a big cost investment unless you have lots of eggs,” he said. “Also, producers can only have up to 3,000 hens. Once up to that number, they fall under USDA requirements.”
As far as producers selling ungraded eggs, the rules remain the same.
Egg grading rules were added to Wyoming’s food rules at the insistence of producers and restaurants in the state.
“We have gotten calls from restaurants wanting to know where producers are so they can buy eggs,” said Linda Stratton, WDA Consumer Health Services assistant manager. “We don’t have any.”
Raw milk contentions
Rules regarding the consumption of raw milk proved to cause a stir among the attendees of the meeting, who felt it was unfair that they must own a cow in order to consume raw milk.
“Several years ago, we put in a section in our food rules on raw milk,” Finkenbinder said. “Currently, the way it reads, unpasteurized milk and products made from unpasteurized milk may not be sold, delivered or provided for human consumption.”
Finkenbinder noted that the WDA felt the rules were unnecessarily restrictive and extended beyond the intent of the rule, so changes were made to allow for consumption of raw milk by families, employees and non-paying guests from a cow owned solely by an individual.
“If you have a cow, you could give that milk to anyone in your family or your non-paying guests, or you could drink non-pasteurized milk from your employer,” he explained, noting that much contention has been seen from the use of the word “solely” in the language.
Finkenbinder noted that he has contacted the Wyoming State Attorney General about eliminating the word “solely” from the language, but has not heard back.
“What we really want is the ability, if we want to, to buy raw milk,” commented one meeting attendee. “Do you have any data that shows people have gotten sick?”
Statistics show that the number of food borne disease outbreaks associated with raw milk has increased, and Finkenbinder noted that the increase could be related to changes in consumption, but the breakdown was unavailable.
He suggested that, if people are interested in purchasing raw milk, they should contact their legislators and encourage support of a bill related to raw milk sales.
Attendees expressed interest in supporting legislation to allow for the consumption of raw milk, and Wallis noted that she has drafted a bill titled, “The Wyoming Food Freedom Act.”
Finkenbinder also mentioned that, with the sizeable opposition to the rules, it would be unlikely that they would move forward as written.
Public meetings lead to hearing
Because of concern with the proposed changes to the Wyoming Food Safety Rule, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) opted to hold three public meetings and a public hearing to consider the issue, said Manager of WDA’s Consumer Health Services.
“We started with our hearings in Riverton several weeks ago, and yesterday we met in Sheridan,” said Finkenbinder. “On Aug. 22, there is a public hearing scheduled in Cheyenne at the Department of Agriculture building beginning at 1 p.m.”
At the hearing, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture will take public comments, which will be analyzed before deciding to go forward with the current proposed food rule changes.