Horticulture Hints: Pickle Bill: Bringing Value-added Product to Market

The farm market season is upon us, and farmers may look to home-canned favorites as a way to diversify their income. A law recently signed by Wisconsin Governor Doyle, known as the ‘Pickle Bill,’ allows a person to home-can fruits, pickles, salsa and other acid and acidified food for sale at farm markets, community events, or a farm roadside stand.

According to University of Wisconsin-Extension food safety specialist Barbara Ingham, food processors in Wisconsin usually are licensed by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). “The ‘Pickle Bill’ specifically exempts a person from having to obtain a license to can acid or acidified foods for sale,” says Ingham. Exempt processors must still register with DATCP, Ingham notes.
The new law requires that an individual claiming a licensing exemption abide by the following rules:
• Only naturally acid or acidified canned foods produced in a home kitchen may be sold under the licensing exemption. Bakery items, dried or packaged foods, or other processed foods may not be sold under the exemption.  Home-canned low-acid foods like vegetables or meat can never be sold, with or without a license.
• Canned items may be sold only at community or social events, farm roadside stands, or a farmers’ market, and only in the state of Wisconsin.
• Sales revenue from exempt products may not exceed $5,000 per year per person. The sales limit for a family is also $5,000 per year.
• Any farm stand or market booth must clearly post a sign stating: “These canned goods are homemade and not subject to state inspection.”
• Each jar of canned food that is sold must be labeled with the name and address of the person who prepared and canned the food product, an ingredient statement, and the date on which the food product was canned.  Each jar must also be clearly labeled with a statement: “This product was made in a private home not subject to state licensing or inspection.”

“Home-canned foods can be potentially hazardous if proper canning procedures are not followed,” says Ingham. “It’s important to follow an up-to-date, research-tested recipe that will produce a safe, high quality product.” As a result, the new law requires that a person canning foods for sale under the exemption complete a canning safety course or follow an approved recipe.  A collection of approved, research-tested recipes from the University of Wisconsin Extension is available online www.foodsafety.wisc.edu/preservation.html or from your local County Extension office.

In addition to using an approved recipe, the first batch of each canned product each year must be
tested to ensure that it is acid enough to be safely canned. Ingham notes that several commercial labs in the state offer this service for a fee. “A pH test result that declares that the acid value is high enough to prevent botulism toxin from forming will reassure the processor that their product should not harm the consumer.”

Processors canning foods under the ‘Pickle Bill’ should contact DATCP at 608-224-4700 to register their business. There is no cost for this registration. Individuals with questions about University of Wisconsin-Extension approved canning recipes, or training should contact Barbara Ingham at 608-263-7383 or
bhingham@wisc.edu. A fact sheet that explains the ‘Pickle Bill’ and provides information on pH
testing and other safety measures can be found online: www.foodsafety.wisc.edu.

Author: Barbara Ingham,

Food Science Extension Specialist

Originally Published, The Weekend Farmer, Summer 2010