Proposed Farmers Market Food Sampling Certificate Rules are Here!

The anticipated proposed rules for the new statewide food sampling at farmers markets certificate that the Illinois General Assembly instructed the Illinois Department of Public Health and their Farmers Market Task Force to create as part of the 2014 Smarter Rules For Farmers Markets legislation has been released.

The Department of Public Health released their proposed rules on April 3rd starting a 45 day public comment period that ends on May 18. Overall the general structure and associated rules for the food sampling certificate program are a welcomed change that will help farmers and local food entrepreneurs sell more of their products at farmers markets by making it easier and more affordable to offer food product samples at farmers markets throughout Illinois. Following May 18th, the Department of Public Health will after reviewing public comments send the rules to the legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules for their approval, once they approve, the rules will become an official new rule, but that process most likely won’t be completed for several months.

The following is a summation of the proposed rulemaking which can also be viewed in full by clicking here. Following the summary you will find information about a couple of minor concerns and recommendations from Illinois Stewardship Alliance on how the rules could be improved to offer greater clarity and more flexibility. You’ll also find information about how you can submit an official comment on the proposed rules.

I urge you to please consider submitting a brief comment in support of the rules and consider adding in some language about our recommended improvements. At a minimum please submit a supportive comment, “if you don’t someone else will,” and there is no telling who that is, and in order to prevent the rules from being watered down or made too onerous we need you to help show that the rules have support!

Summary of the Proposed Rulemaking

The new proposed rule would create a certificate program for food sampling at farmers markets that would allow a farmer or entrepreneur to prepare and offer samples of their products for promotional purposes at farmers markets. A certificate holder would be allowed to offer samples at any and every farmers market in the state for 36 months, this is a vast improvement upon the current state of affairs. Currently, to legally offer samples most fruit and vegetable farmers or entrepreneurs selling value-added products would have to get a temporary permit for almost every market, every time they wanted to offer samples and a new or different permit for each jurisdiction, that many permits can really add up which is why there are so few producers offering samples at farmers markets. Each individual farmer or entrepreneur or staff person that would be handling food samples would need a certificate.

The following are the requirements for applying and being granted a farmers market food sampling certificate by the Illinois Department of Public Health:

  • Each individual must complete an ANSI or Department approved food handlers course (can be done online for around $10 or in person and takes only a couple hours)
  • Each individual must complete the Department’s farmers market food sampling training (they are currently developing this training with the goal of both online and in-person options)
  • Each individual would then have to submit an application and a $40 payment fee

Alternatively, if you already have or are going to get a valid Illinois Food Service Sanitation Manager Certificate, instead of taking the food handler course and food sampling training, you can just submit an application to the Department along with a $10 fee and proof of your Sanitation Manger Certificate and receive the same food sampling at farmers markets certificate. Upon being issued a food sampling at farmers market certificate, the certificate holder would be allowed to offer samples at any and every farmers market in the state for a period of 36 months.

The proposed rule also includes provisions for replacement certificates, suspension of certificates for related sanitation violations and a process for appeals and reinstatement of a suspended certificate. In addition, the proposal includes a requirement to post the food sampling certificate at the point-of-sale or in other words at your farmers market booth.

Minor Concerns & Recommendations for Improvement

The area of suspensions and posting the certificate at the point-of-sale is where Illinois Stewardship Alliance has some minor concerns. Illinois Stewardship Alliance thinks that requiring the farmer or vendor to display their actual certificate at the point of sale [Section 750.4300, d)] is a bit onerous and difficult to comply with due to the outdoor nature of most farmers markets and the potential for inclement weather. Illinois Stewardship Alliance would rather require copies (not the original) to be displayed or alternatively to just have the certificate on hand for verification by the public and local health inspectors.

In the section of the rules governing suspension and revocations of a certificate, Illinois Stewardship Alliance thinks some small changes should be made to better protect farmers and entrepreneurs from overly strict local interpretation and implementation. In the section on suspensions and revocation [Section 750.4300, 2)] the rules state that “if a holder receives two or more suspensions in a 12-month period the Department will revoke the certificate.” Illinois Stewardship Alliance thinks [Section 750.4300, 2)] is too strict and in order to better protect farmers and entrepreneurs from overly strict local implementation that could result in unreasonable suspensions, the number of suspensions in a 12-month period that leads to a revocation should be increased from 2 to 4. Alternately or in addition to that change, in order to give the Department the flexibility to respond appropriately in these potential situations, the rules should be changed to say “the Department may revoke the certificate,” instead of “shall revoke.”

How to Comment

Submitting official comments on a proposed rulemaking isn’t necessarily easy but it really isn’t hard and it is a very important but often overlooked aspect of the policy process. To submit comments on the Illinois Department of Public Health proposed rules for the new Food Product Sampling at Farmers Market Certificate you have two options, 1) online via email or 2) through postal mail. May 18 is the last day to submit comments. Following the May 18th deadline the Department will review public comments and potentially make changes and then send the proposed rules to the legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules for their approval, once they approve, they will become an official new rule, but that process most likely won’t be complete for several months.

Whether it is online via email or through the U.S. Postal Service make sure you include the following information at the top of your comment:

Proposed Rule: Farmers Market – Food Product Sampling Certificate

Rule Title Number: 77

Rule Part Number: 750

Volume Number: 39

Issue Number: 14

Date Published: 4/3/15

Online Via Email: Comments can be sent to dph.rules@illinois.gov with “Farmers Market Food Sampling Proposed Rules” as the subject line.

Via the US Postal Service: Send comments to Elizabeth Patton, DPH, 535 W. Jefferson St, 5th floor, Springfield IL, 62761.