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Inspection Guidelines for Indiana Maple Syrup Announced

Available as a PDF file at the Indiana Department of Health’s web site at http://www.in.gov/isdh/regsvcs/foodprot/farmers_market/maple_syrup_guidance_final.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

A. Scott Gilliam, Manager of the Indiana State Department of Health’s Food Protection Program has announced publication of the agency’s guidelines for producers of maple syrup in Indiana.

According to Gilliam, the guidelines, issued June 28, 2006, have two important functions. The document provides regulatory information for Indiana’s maple syrup producers who sell their syrup in the retail market and the guidelines will assist local health departments in the inspection of these operations.

“Our goal is to assist Indiana’s maple industry to produce maple syrup intended for sale in a safe manner and suggest ways for producers to meet existing statutory requirements,” Gilliam noted.

The guidelines are the result of a 3-year process that began when officials from the Indiana State Department of Health’s Food Protection Program attended the Indiana Maple Syrup Association’s 2003 annual meeting to familiarize themselves with the Hoosier maple industry. They also consulted with departments of health in other maple producing states to learn how they approached food safety and maple syrup.

In the spring of 2005 the State Department of Health assembled a task force of some 30 representatives from government, academia and producers of seasonal and value added products in Indiana. Members of the task force included producers or association representatives of products such as maple syrup, honey, wine, freezer beef, pork producers, and fresh vegetables.

Members of the task force were asked to become familiar with the existing statutes related to food safety and comment on the impact that current statutory requirements have on their respective enterprises. They were then asked to suggest ways to produce their value added food and meet legal requirements for food safety.

Art Harris and Larry Yoder represented the Indiana Maple Syrup Association with the assistance of association board member Lowell Williams.

The IMSA representatives identified the significant food safety issues in maple syrup production, they evaluated how strict application of the present statutes would impact the maple industry, and they suggested ways for maple producers to meet the statutes, assure food safety, and remain economically viable.

Representatives of other value added foods did the same for their products.

State officials then drafted guidelines for the respective products and invited members of the task force to respond.
The final guidelines reflect the requirements of the law and the suggestions from industry representatives.

“I believe that the guidance document will serve producers and inspectors very well,” commented IMSA task force representative Larry Yoder. “It [the document] identifies ways in which maple producers can realistically meet the law's requirements and make a safe, locally produced food available to Hoosiers. Further, it gives guidance to inspectors who must interpret regulations in an environment unique to maple syrup production.”

Not all maple syrup makers totally agree with this assessment.

Art Harris, another member of the task force, remains concerned that wording in selected places may still lead some inspectors to question procedures or facilities common in maple syrup production.

“We’ll have a better handle on how Indiana’s inspections go after a season or two,” Harris observed. “I hope that good communication continues so we can readily deal with any problems that may turn up.”

However, according to Scott Gilliam, the state health department’s intent is to provide guidelines that will enable the producer and inspector to work cooperatively.

“In Indiana, it was not a matter of maple syrup just now coming under regulation as a result of new legislation,” Gilliam noted.
“Maple syrup production is a food processing activity as defined by the Indiana code. It falls into a group known as “value-added” products, and that has been the case for some time.”

“It’s just that since maple syrup is a low risk food, it has not been a high priority for inspection,” Gilliam continued.

Many maple producers feared that strict interpretation and enforcement of the current law would put them out of business if their seasonal, low risk operations were required to comply with the usual retail food regulations. Ironically, that would have occurred just as state government has begun to encourage entrepreneurial Hoosier agriculture.

“In the long term view, the guidelines may very well help maple syrup production in Indiana,” Yoder noted.
“Regulatory uncertainty probably limits the enthusiasm of a business person or entrepreneur more than anything else.”

Indiana’s development of guidelines for inspection has been marked by good cooperation between maple producers and the state Department of Health. This has not always been the case in other maple producing states where regulators and producers have sometimes found themselves in an adversarial relationship.

Shirley K. Vargas, Wholesale Supervisor for the state’s food protection program, reminds Indiana maple syrup makers that the guidelines are for smaller producers engaged in retail sales only. Larger producers who sell maple syrup wholesale whether in state or out of state, must meet the sanitation requirements for wholesale food establishments. Likewise, the guidelines are intended only for the processing of maple syrup and not other related products such as maple cream, maple sugar or candy.

Guidelines are currently available as a PDF file at the Indiana Department of Health’s web site at http://www.in.gov/isdh/regsvcs/foodprot/farmers_market/maple_syrup_guidance_final.pdf

Discussions about the new guidelines and how small producers can comply with the regulations will be a part of the program when the Indiana Maple Syrup Association holds its annual meeting on December 2 in Rockville.

Information about the meeting and membership in the Indiana Maple Syrup Association is available elsewhere on this IMSA’s web site.