New food rules not so daunting

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New regulations went into effect the first of the year concerning commercial, home-based food preparation.
All those who sell “non-potentially hazardous” home-prepared foods — such as high-sugar jams or jellies, non-cream-filled baked goods, tortillas, candy and fudge — are required to have a permit from the New Mexico Environment Department. The food permit costs $100 a year.
NMED Food Program Manager Mary Lou LaCasse explained in a Jan. 4 phone interview that the new rules will not adversely affect fundraisers such as bake sales.
“Non-profit groups holding a one-time fundraiser, for example a booster club raising money to buy uniforms for cheerleaders, are not required to get a permit.” LaCasse explained. “However, any time you prepare food for the public, you need to be aware of ordinary food handling safety measures, like using gloves or tongs.”
The $100 permit is only for individuals and home-based companies that are in the business of selling certain low-risk foods directly to consumers at Farmers Markets, roadside stands, or festivals.
“If you make food products to sell online, or to stores or restaurants, you still need to use a certified commercial kitchen,” LaCasse said.
The home-based permit will not apply to food products considered high risk containing meats or starchy items such as cooked rice or potatoes, that spoil easily. Those still must be made in a certified commercial kitchen.
In order to receive a home-based food permit, applicants need to have a way to keep their personal food items separate from the ingredients for their commercial products, a separate sink for handwashing, and attend an NMED food safety class. In addition, said NMED Environmental Specialist Jerry Ford, your water must be from an approved source.
“If you’re on the city system, you’re fine, but if you have a well, it has to be inspected and approved, and must pass inspection on a quarterly basis,” he said. “The same applies to your wastewater system. If you have a septic system, it has to be approved and permitted.”
Another requirement is proper packaging and labeling. Any product sold under the home-based permit must have a label with the company name and address, and an ingredient list.
A food safety class is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 23, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the County Annex building at 198 Neel Ave. The class is free, and open to anyone who is interested.
Al and Jane Smoake, owners of A & J Family Farms, are considering applying for a home-based permit. They use the certified kitchen at the Manzanares Street Coffeehouse to make their specialty jams and jellies. As soon as it opens, they plan to use the Community Kitchen that is being built as a joint effort by the Socorro County Chamber of Commerce and the Socorro Farmers Market. They sell their product over the Internet and to stores and restaurants all over the Southwest. A home-based permit, said Jane Smoake, would also give them the option of making small batches of baked goods at home to bring to the Farmers Market to sell with their other products.
“We’re thinking about it,” said Al Smoake. “One reason for us to do it would be to be able to offer a product on demand. If I needed to make a small batch of jam for a customer who calls and says they’ll be driving through in two days, I could do it without having to take all my supplies and equipment into town.”
The new rules will not apply to honey sellers, because honey is not a processed product. Also, the new rules will have no effect on special events like the City of Socorro’s annual posole contest.
“The best thing, if you have any questions, is call me,” said Ford.

Former Chieftain reporter Ether Ashe contributed to this story.