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Planning To Be A Food Vendor? Health Dept. Can Tell You If Inspection Is Necessary

In recent years, it has become very common for citizens wanting to sell foods to the public in different forms. Some want to sell said products via mobile vendors, caterers, food trucks, food carts, and the traditional farmers market. In counties like Ste. Genevieve, there are no local food ordinances so it is governed by the Missouri Food Code.  

The Ste Genevieve County Health Department receives many calls throughout the year with a similar question: “I want to sell this product or that and in said way, Do I need to be inspected by the health department?”

The answer to that question can be a little tricky to answer. It depends on the product that is being sold, how it is processed, how it is transported, and how it is held before service.

The first question asked is “What product do you want to sell?” The reason this question is so important is because it is one of the key components in the Missouri Food Code that inspected facilities have to comply with.

All foods have to come from an approved source. An approved source is a food that comes from an inspected facility at its origin. Meaning, for example, if you purchase meat for your facility to sell or retail, it has to come from a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-inspected processing plant, distributor, and delivery service. At all of these points of the products origin it is inspected by the appropriate agency. Meat from an approved source will have a mark of inspection from Missouri Department of Agriculture or the USDA. Meat packaged with a label of “not for sale” may not be sold at a farmers market or be used in an inspected facility. Fresh vegetables and fruits locally grown and not processed can be used in an inspected facility.

The second question is, “Is the product processed?” Processed foods have to come from an inspected facility. Processing foods does not include removing outer husks of corn or removing the outer leaves from a head of cabbage. But if you’re removing the kernels of corn from the cob, slicing tomatoes or chopping lettuce, that is processing.  Any cooking of a product other than baked goods that are non-potentially hazardous makes a food processed.  

Distribution centers typically transport the products to the inspected facilities and use refrigerated or freezer trailers if necessary. These facilities are also inspected by the appropriate agencies. The food sold through inspected facilities is then inspected by the local health department on a routine basis to assure that it has been properly received, held, prepared and delivered to the consumer in a safe manner according to the Missouri Food Code.

If you want to cater from your home, operate a food truck or be a mobile vendor, and you will be preparing, processing and cooking foods that are potentially hazardous, then your facility would have to meet the requirements of the Missouri Food Code and be inspected by the health department.

Some foods can be sold at Farmers Markets and not be from an inspected facility. Jams, jellies, honey, and some baked goods are examples of this. Sugar-free jams and jellies are an exception. Baked goods such as breads, cookies, fruit pies, cracked nuts and similar foods also apply. Some high-acidified foods such as pickles, salsa and others apply. These products must be sold by the manufacturer directly to the end consumer, and it must comply with the labeling requirements found in the Missouri Food Code: name and address of the manufacturer; common name of the food; all of the ingredients of the food; and a statement that the product has not been inspected by the Department of Health and Senior Services. At the place of sale, a placard must be on display stating that “This product has not been inspected by the Department of Health and Senior Services.”  

There are always unique products and situations that don’t fall directly into these guidelines. As always, if there are questions regarding these situations, I am available at 573-883-7411 to figure out what rules and guidelines apply.

(Bob W. Kluender is an environmental public health specialist II with the Ste. Genevieve County Health Department.)

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