MILWAUKEE-At Wisconsin farmers markets, vendors no longer need licenses to sell pickles, jams and other canned foods, while small farmers in Maine can sell slaughtered chickens without worrying about inspections.
Federal and state laws require that most food sold to the public be made in licensed facilities open to government inspectors. But as more people become interested in buying local food, a few states have created exemptions for amateur chefs who sell homemade goods at farmers markets and on small farms.
The exemptions have touched off a debate about how to balance the need for food safety with a dose of regulatory common sense. Supporters say they recognize food safety regulations designed for big commercial food handlers can be a burden for small-time cooks who just want to make a few extra bucks selling canned goods or other specialty products. Opponents say that without regulation, the public is at risk for food-borne illnesses.
Wisconsin lawmakers enacted the so-called Pickle Bill in February. Among other things, it allows small vendors to sell high-acid canned foods, such as pickled fruits, salsas and sauerkraut, without a license. It does not apply to low-acid canned goods, such as pickled eggs, which typically carry a higher risk of contamination.