Anita Kopchinski of Hidden Brook Gardens in Ledyard wants to be able to expand and diversify her farm business, but first she needs the legislature’s approval.
Kopchinski was at the Capitol Monday urging lawmakers to pass a bill that will allow her to can and sell her pickled fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets.
“This bill would help us tremendously in our sales,” Kopchinski said. Not to mention, “residents want these types of food products.”
The bill being heard by the legislature’s Public Health Committee Monday would allow everything from pickles, salsa, and chow-chow to be sold at farm stands and farmers markets across the state.
The bill, informally known as the “pickle bill,” made it through the House last year by a vote of 144 to 3, but died on the Senate calendar in the final hours of the legislative session. This year farmers like Kopchinski are hoping it makes it to the governor’s desk.
It’s likely the bill, informally known as the “pickle bill,” will face opposition from the three state agencies that opposed the bill last year.
The Department of Public Health, Department of Agriculture, and Department of Consumer Protection did not support the bill last year because it would allow food to be prepared in unregulated kitchens with ingredients capable of supporting growth of botulism-causing bacteria.
Botulismis a bacteria found in soil and untreated water. It produces spores that survive in improperly preserved or canned food, where they produce toxin. If eaten, even tiny amounts of this toxin can lead to severe poisoning.
Ellen Blaschinski, branch chief of the Health Department’s Regulatory services branch, is expected to tell the Public Health Committee that these produce items traditionally thought of as “low hazard foods,” are no longer as safe as once thought. “Recent national events have found them implicated in foodborne outbreaks caused by Salmonella, E. coli and other pathogens,” she said in her written testimony.
“The FDA over the last several years has added several fresh produce items to the definition of potentially hazardous foods, including garlic in oil, sprouts, cut melons, cut tomatoes, and most recently, cut leafy greens because of their association with these outbreaks,” Blaschinski said. “The use of fresh ingredients, local or otherwise, provides no additional measure of food safety.”
However, Kopchinski, said the bill would require farmers to take and pass an eight-hour food preparation class and have the acidity of the products tested by an independent laboratory. Also it requires the water used in the preparation process to come from a public water supply or if it’s from a private well it needs to be tested annually for coliform bacteria.
As for the potential botulism, Kopchinski said it requires farmers to make sure the pH value is below 4.6. She said botulism spores can’t do anything at a proper pH below 4.6.
Also the kitchens these products are being made in are small farm kitchens where only one item at a time is being prepared, she said.
“It’s not like a restaurant where a variety of dishes are being cooked at the same time,“ Kopchinski said.
The largest batch Kopchinski’s ever made is 60 eight-ounce jars. The products will mostly be sold to friends and neighbors in the community and everyone will know where it came from, she added.
The bill applies only to fruits and vegetables. It does not apply to ay foods consisting of milk, eggs, meat, poultry, or fish.
Steve Reviczky, executive director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau, said his organization supports the bill.
“There are enough safeguards in the bill to ensure consumer safety and when passed it will help many farm families who have small operations,” Reviczky said.
He estimated hundreds of farmers would benefit from this bill.