SALEM - October signals the beginning of the bazaar season in Oregon with many offering handmade gifts and homemade goodies throughout the holiday season. The Oregon Department of Agriculture wants to make sure the food items for sale at holiday bazaars are safe and wholesome.
"Anybody who sells food in Oregon is required to be licensed and inspected," says Mike Govro, assistant administrator of ODA's Food Safety Division. "We are trying to get the message out now, before the bazaars actually begin, that people are required to be licensed if they sell food products."
The purpose of holiday bazaars is generally to raise money for worthy causes, schools, or programs. The organization putting on the bazaar raises funds by selling space for the vendor. However, participants who sell homemade food are allowed to keep the profits. Those people usually don't know they need to be licensed. The organizers of the bazaar may not know about the requirement.
"We have requirements for making foods in homes," says Govro. "We have specific provisions that speak to homemade foods that are sold commercially. There is really no distinction between selling your item at the local grocery store and simply selling it at a local bazaar."
The license allows ODA food safety inspectors to check the conditions where the food is made. Whether the food is prepared in a commercial kitchen or someone's home, ODA wants to make sure it is being handled properly and under sanitary conditions. The Food Safety Division currently issues 396 domestic kitchen licenses throughout the state.
While statistics on illness associated with holiday bazaar foods are not available, a quick check by ODA inspectors in the past has raised some concerns. Often times, homemade canned goods are offered for sale - something that is prohibited by law. One concern is the possibility of botulism.
Proper canning requires rigid controls, such as high temperature and pressure, to ensure the food is safe. While there is no prohibition against home canning, that product is not allowed to be sold commercially, just to be on the safe side.
For more information, contact ODA's Food Safety Division for licensing information at (503) 986-4720.