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Health inspectors check food safety at Dane Co. Farmers' Market


Published: Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013 --- 3:30 p.m.

From reds, oranges and yellows, green, blues and purples, the Dane Co. Farmers' Market has just about every color of the rainbow in food, flowers and artwork.

"There aren't any grocery stores in town that allow you to buy this selection of local and organic vegetables and eggs and cheese," said shopper Emily Feinstein.

The weekly event draws thousands of people--some taking advantage of the free samples, others shopping for their weekly produce.

"We're selling food in a retail setting. Everything has to be safe," said market manager Larry Johnson.

A lot goes on behind the scenes to make sure what looks good, also tastes good. Johnson requires all vendors have permits before they can sell on the Square.

"Wisconsin has a pickle bill, which allows people with sales less than $5,000 to not have a license. We override that and actually require that all processed foods have a licensed facility," Johnson said.

There are more than150 vendors at the Farmers' Market on any given Saturday. Some are licensed through the Dept. of Agriculture, others are licensed through the county. Sept. 28 is the day health inspectors are checking in with each of the various vendors as part of their annual health and safety inspection.

"It's a surprise inspection," said Jim Blackmore with Madison and Dane Co. Public Health. "We check food temperatures, bakery handling, eggs, cheese, meat."

Blackmore says everyone passes inspection this time.

"For the most part, it's just talking to the vendors and finding out if they're doing anything new," he said.

But that wasn't the case for Pecatonica Valley Farm last summer. The Carr family had been keeping its eggs in coolers with ice packs, a clear health violation, especially during the hottest months of the year.

"So now we have an industrial-size cooler that we keep on our truck that we run through the electricity to keep things cool," said Amy Carr, co-owner of the farm.

Both Johnson and Blackmore work with the vendors and with each other to try to fix problems as soon as possible.

"If we have to come back, there's a $150 fee," Blackmore said. "So nobody wants that."

"We work with the Dept. of Health. We consider them as allies, as supporters," Johnson said. "We're all working to have safe, healthy food here."


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