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MCAS Frequently Asked Questions

Programmatic FAQ | Listening Session FAQ

Programmatic FAQ

What is the Approved Source program?

The Mendocino County Approved Source program allows producers of raw produce to sell or donate food to retail food (grocery stores, etc.) and food preparation facilities (restaurants, schools, hospitals, emergency food centers) in compliance with State Law. Approved source is a free and voluntary program that allows producers to self verify that they are complying with the Best Management Practices (BMPs) that apply to their operation.

Who can become an Approved Source?

The Approved Source program is available to anyone who wishes to sell or donate to food proprietor or retail food establishment. The program is available for producers who are growing on a commercial scale or those who are doing it on a home scale level.

Why would I want to participate in the program?

Retail food and food preparation facilities are required by California law to purchase their produce from an ďApproved SourceĒ. Participating in this program will open up these markets to local producers.

What do I need to do to become an Approved Source?

Registration is free and easy. Follow the links on the Approved Source website (insert URL here) to the registration page. Read the list of Best Management Practices and ensure that you meet the requirements (or will meet the requirements throughout the growing season) that are applicable to your operation (i.e. if you a utilizing water in a manner that requires testing, you will test as outlined in the BMPs)

What geographic area does this cover?

This program applies to all producers who wish to sell to retail food and food preparation facilities in Mendocino County. We anticipate producers from Mendocino County will be the primary users of the program, however producers in other counties are welcome to participate.

How does this relate to Cottage Food?

This program is separate and distinct from the Cottage Food program.

What if I sell my produce only at Farmers Markets, through a CSA, or directly to other end users?

While you are not required to become an Approved Source if you sell your own produce directly to the consumer at the farmers market, through a CSA, or at a farm stand, all producers growing fresh produce for the public are encouraged to implement the Best Management Practices outlined here and may choose to self-verify to ensure their customers that they are considering food safety issues on their farm.

I only want to sell lemons off my tree to the local market; do I need to become an Approved Source?

Yes. Regardless of your scale you must become an Approved Source to sell to retail food and food preparation facilities. However, remember that you only need to comply with the BMPs that apply to your operation, so the process of compliance will be simpler for home scale producers.

How much does this program cost?

Applying for and receiving your Approved Source designation is free. Depending on the practices used on your operation there may be some cost in complying with the BMPs (water testing, record keeping, etc.)

Will I be inspected?

This program is self-verifying and there will be no inspection of your operation in the regular course of events. In the case of a food borne illness outbreak the Department of Environmental Health may inspect your operation.

How often do I need to renew?

Annually.

What happens if I test my water and it comes back above the allowed limit for E. Coli?

First, we will allow producers to perform presence/absence tests for E. Coli, which are less expensive than quantified testing. If a sample comes back positive, the producer would then need to do a quantified test to find out the level of E. Coli present in the water source. If that test indicated that the source contained E. Coli levels above the permitted amount the producer would have a variety of options. One would be to make sure that water utilized from that source is applied to crops in a manner that eliminated contact between the water and the edible portion of the plant (i.e. drip irrigation utilized on above ground crops, etc.). Another solution would be to implement a mitigation strategy to lower the E. Coli level in the water source (i.e. introducing a chemical disinfectant to a well, etc.) or implement a treatment strategy that would then reduce the E. Coli below the permissible level (i.e. Ozone, UV treatment, etc.)

How were the Best Management Practices (BMPs) created?

The BMPs were created through a public participation process in Mendocino County that involved multiple sessions at three locations throughout the county. Both producers and buyers contributed information and feedback to create a list of BMPs that both are protective of public health and achievable. Other sources consulted included recommendations from the USDA Good Agricultural Practices and the California Department of Food and Agriculture Food Safety Guidelines.

Who should I contact to get more information on this program?

All inquiries should be directed to Dave Jensen, Mendocino County Director of Environmental Health, at (707) 234-6636 or email the program at: mendoas@co.mendocino.ca.us.


Listening Session FAQ

During the Approved Source Listening Sessions held in March 2013, several questions were raised about the program. Below is a list of those questions with answers provided.

Can an Organic Certification be utilized for Approved Source designation?

While there may be some overlap in BMPs and related Farm Plan requirements for Organic Certification, the intent of the Approved Source program is fundamentally different than that of an organic program. If you are certified organic, you are probably already meeting a number of the self-verifying BMPs that are part of the Approved Source program in Mendocino County.

What about produce that comes from other counties, or is brokered through a producer for resale?

Any grower that registers in this program may sell their produce in Mendocino County.

How does Approved Source relate to sales outside the County?

It is our hope that other counties will recognize and provide reciprocity for the Mendocino County Approved Source program.

What about wild and foraged foods?

Wild foods cannot qualify for Approved Source status. Since a wild crop is not grown on a farm under control of a person practicing the agricultural arts, it is impossible to document compliance with the Best Management Practices (BMP). Foraged foods from a farm that complies with the Approved Source Best Management Practices may qualify if harvest and post-harvest BMP are met.

We donít want this process to hamper local buying or sourcing.

We have developed a system that can be easily accessed by retail buyers to verify the Approved Source status of a vendor. Ideally, this program will enhance local buying and open up markets that currently may be wary of buying from local producers due to food safety and liability concerns.

We want a process that doesnít create much more bureaucracy.

This program will take a minimal amount of time and effort to register. There will be a variable amount of on-farm time that may be required to adhere to the BMPs that are applicable for the farming operation.

Will this process be modeled after the Napa and Sonoma models?

The Mendocino County Approved Source program is similar in some respects and different in others compared to the Napa and Sonoma programs. The goal of minimizing the risk of pathogen transmission on raw produce guides the Mendocino program, based on generally accepted Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and Best Management Practices. However, we have crafted a program that meets the particular needs of this community.

What about gleaning and donations to food banks, senior centers, feeding centers, and schools?

A Mendocino County Approved Source producer can donate their produce to a food bank senior centers, feeding centers, and schools IF they issue a dated invoice that lists the following: 1) identity of producer; 2) address and phone number of producer; and 3) identity and quantity of produce donated. This invoice would accompany the products and be given to the person(s) receiving the donation.

What about chefs who purchase directly from Farmerís Market vendors at the Farmerís Market?

The Direct Marketing laws were amended in Sept. of 2011 to allow Certified Producers (at a CFM) to sell to commercial buyers, under certain conditions. Certified Producers at a Certified Farmerís Market can sell to chefs who are planning to use the food at a retail establishment IF they issue a dated invoice that lists the following: 1) identity of producer; 2) address and phone number of producer; and 3) identity and quantity of product purchased. A copy of the invoice must be given to the chef upon purchase.

* What about donations from Farmerís Market vendors to food banks, senior centers, feeding centers, and schools?

The chief concern with donations is to maintain traceability for the produce. Donations to a food bank are treated the same as sales to a chef, as outlined in the question above. A copy of an invoice must be given to the individual collecting the donation on behalf of the school, senior center, etc. The same invoice(s) should be then given to the individual receiving the donation(s) at the school, senior center, etc.

What about veggie starts donated to gardens?

Vegetable starts are considered nursery stock. If anyone wants to raise a vegetable start and then give it to someone else, they are free to do so.

Will this open producers up to lawsuits or fines?

Food producers, like all businesses, have some exposure to liability as a result of putting items into the stream of commerce. Food producers are encouraged to look at their liability exposure and mitigate risk through insurance and other appropriate measures. The Approved Source program will not create any additional liability for producers. In fact having a documented food safety plan in place can reduce liability for producers by demonstrating that they are taking appropriate steps to protect human health.

What about enforcement?

Environmental Health inspectors will inspect farms only in the event of a food illness outbreak. Otherwise, growers must verify that they are in compliance with the Best Management Practices of this program. If it is discovered that a grower intentionally committed perjury, the case may be forwarded for prosecution.

Is this more work for producers?

Assessing your farmís current status, identifying areas for improvement and complying with the BMPs that are applicable for your farm will undoubtedly require careful consideration and planning, which means time. Once this work is done and food safety systems are integrated into your daily routine, it should require minimal effort.

Will this become an unsustainable cost burden?

While there are some costs associated with implementing BMPs on any farm, obtaining Approved Source status via the online self-verification form will be free for producers. Depending on the nature of the farm and what BMPs are already in place, potential costs could include water testing, increased recordkeeping, and mitigation of contamination risk on the farm.

Does the actual risk of food borne illness justify the program?

There are a variety of opinions and data sources that gauge the level of risk of food borne illness. That being said, this program is designed to minimize the risk to human health from those sources. Given that this program is free and voluntary, the cost benefit analysis of the program would indicate that the program is justified. It is also important to know that regardless of the difference in opinion about the need for food safety regulation, the fact is that the California Retail Food Code requires this type of program.

Is this based on sound science?

Again as noted in the previous question there are differing opinions and data sets that put the risk of food borne illness at different levels. This program sets forth a series of Best Management Practices designed to reduce the risk to human health while balancing the needs of producers. BMP are based upon commonly accepted lists of practices and community input.

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is the biggest issue, and that it will be a game changer and possibly game ender for small farms.

There is no question that food safety is here to stay and farmers of all scales will have to adhere to BMPs to stay competitive and compliant in the marketplace. We do not yet know the impact of FSMA on small local producers, if at all, considering the exemptions for small producers. It is in the best interest of all producers to begin to develop a food safety program for their farm and incorporate BMPs into their production practices now.

Does there need to be a scalable version of this program for different size operations?

The issue of scalability is relevant when the cost or burden of a program impacts different sectors disproportionately. In this case the Approved Source program, based upon a self verification of best management practices, will be appropriate for producers at all levels in Mendocino County. You need to comply with only those BMPs that are applicable for your situation.

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