Delegate’s pre-filed bill would allow sale of home-prepared pickles
SALEM – Salem-area people who make pickles and similar products at home may be able to sell them at farmers markets and from their homes if a bill filed by Delegate Greg Habeeb passes.
The Republican who represents Salem and this area of Roanoke County pre-filed House Bill 46 in late November, at the request of a number of his constituents in Salem, Craig County and the portions of Montgomery and Roanoke counties that make up his 8th District in the House of Delegates.
“It’s starting to get attention,” said Habeeb on Dec. 19.
The bill for which he is chief patron would exempt from state inspection private homes whose residents process and prepare pickled products such as cucumber pickles, pickled beets, relishes, chow chow and salsas the same way home bakers can produce and sell their cookies, breads and other baked baked items.
The way Virginia law and policies are now worded, only processors who have passed a state-approved acidified foods course and file paperwork for each canning and have or use a state-inspected kitchen, among other requirements, can legally sell pickled products at farmers markets. Currently, they can sell at church bazaars and other festivals.
Food inspectors and other officials with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services contend that unregulated pickled foods made by at home could make people seriously ill.
Local people who make pickles, pepper jelly, chow chow and similar acidified foods and in the past sold them at farmers’ markets are excited about Habeeb’s sponsorship of the bill and look forward to the law being changed in the future.
“Most home picklers have been processing pickles for years and they know how to do the process safely,” said Ellen Richmond of Glenvar. “We’d like to have the law changed so it would add income,” added Richmond, who is one of the sisters in 4 Sisters who sell home-baked goods and jellies at the Salem Farmers’ Market.
Sister Lephia Jennings and her husband Ron who live in Boones Mill and help her sisters sell at the Salem market are looking ahead to making pickles and other canned items as a retirement business, she said.
“Because we are small, we do not make a lot of money on this. “Corn salsa was a big-selling item,” she said.
“We’re planning on getting our kitchen inspected so we can expand this as a business,” said Jennings, who added that 36 of the 38 years they have been married they have fed their family with produce they grew and canned.
Sister Diana Smith, who lives in Red Brush in Craig County, was one of only a handful of residents from the Roanoke Valley who attended an acidified foods course in the spring. The inch-thick textbook and two-day course was more than she wanted to handle, and Smith dropped out before completing the course and all four parts of the required tests.
She understands why home picklers must be careful during the process, though. “Holding time is a very important aspect. You have to leave pickles or jellies barely simmering while canning our other jars, to prevent bacteria from developing. If you leave it in the jar and it cools below that temperature before you get it canned, it will make people sick,” she added.
Only a handful of residents from the Roanoke Valley and Southwest Virginia completed an acidified foods course and passed the required four-part exam when it was offered in the spring, according to the person who arranged the course in Wytheville.
Under the proposed bill, home picklers would have to label their products “Not for resale; processed and prepared without state inspection.” Home bakers use the same wording on their breads, cookies, cakes and other products baked at home and offered for sale at farmers markets.
In the 2011 legislative session, Delegate David Toscano of Charlottesville, a Democrat, submitted a bill that would exempt pickles. That bill did not advance.
Private homes where candies, jams, jellies – without added vinegar – and baked goods are prepared and distributed are already exempt from inspection, as a result of a bill sponsored by Senator Creigh Deeds. Deeds, a Democrat who lives in Bath County, represented Craig County when he was in the House of Delegates from 1991-2001 before the district was redrawn and he was elected to the Senate.
That bill was passed by the House of Delegates and the Senate in 2008 and the governor signed it into law.
The upcoming session of the General Assembly will begin Jan. 11.