The Safe Locavore

It sometimes seems as though the local food movement and food safety advocates are constantly being pitted against each other. The local food movement, in its embrace of DIY charcuterie and fermentation, dairy products straight from the farm, and the mantra that “a little dirt won’t hurt,” is mythologized to seem like a throwback to a time before microbiology was understood. Food safety advocates, on the other hand, are often painted with a brush just broad enough to include mechanized food production. In these caricatured stereotypes, local foodies run barefoot through the fields, while food safety folks eat factory-made meals in their lab coats.

Well, we’re here to dispel both myths. Amazing as it may sound, it’s possible to be passionate about eating locally while caring deeply about food safety. We are, and our company, Dirigo Food Safety, is founded on the twin principles of eating safely and eating locally. Our mission, in fact, is to help small, artisan producers understand regulations and the logic behind them so that they can work within the rules to produce the best food possible. Sometimes, this means just writing down what you’re already doing. Sometimes this means adapting your processes. And sometimes, it means working to change regulation.

In America, our food system is regulated by a variety of agencies, and the chain of inspection varies from state to state, making it mind boggling to navigate the landscape of regulation. The scale of production can also change the regulatory procedure, so you may think you’re working within the rules, but by scaling up, you’re actually no longer in compliance. Cooking methods, too, may mean a different type of regulation: sous vide cooking and house cured meats, which many chefs are experimenting with, trigger different regulations. No one wants to make people sick, and especially in the restaurant world, rules are often broken because of misunderstanding rather than intent. It breaks our hearts to see meat impounded and restaurants financially imperiled because regulations were improperly understood.

So how does one become a “safe locavore?” If you’re a food producer — at any scale — the answer is simple: learn about HACCP. Even if you don’t need certification, become familiar with the principles of food safety. Every State Extension office in the country offers occasional HACCP courses; if your local class has passed, give us a shout and we can help: info@dirigofoodsafety.com.

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