BUTMES, Iowa. Selling food to the public is a big responsibility. Numerous state and federal laws have been enacted to ensure public safety and adherence to important food safety protocols.
However, navigating through all the rules and regulations can be tricky. Depending on what is being sold and how much, many food vendors in Iowa may be exempt from state and federal licensing requirements. But knowing the requirements and best practices is still smart.
Since joining Iowa State University in 2015, Shannon Coleman has worked hard to help educate and educate Iowans who sell food to the public about what they need to know.
“Iowa has very specific rules about what can and cannot be sold at farmers markets and the public without a license,” said Coleman, assistant professor of food science and human nutrition and a liberal arts scholar at Iowa State University. “Sometimes a food manufacturer or retailer just needs some basic guidance.”
In 2017, she worked with graduate student Leah (Gilman) River to develop newsletters and personal training that helped instruct food vendors on the rules, but Coleman quickly discovered that more user-friendly training was needed.
Coleman described the pilot project as “the initial conversation with the industry. It was standing room only at every seat. In fact, we had a list of people who wanted to participate.”
In 2019, working with graduate student Tara Temen, Coleman developed a pilot program that offered online food safety education related to the Iowa Tax Exempt Home Food Operators and Home Bakeries Act. It is known as “Home Food Operators: Food Safety Rules and Course”.
Since then, the voluntary course has been offered and is today available online every day of the year or in person upon request for $35. The course consists of six modules related to home food vendors and bakeries in Iowa.
The course covers Iowa policies and regulations, food safety basics, foodborne pathogens, foods that require and do not require temperature control, and safe production and preparation methods. The online course is available in Moodle, an online learning management system.
All documents and curriculum will be updated this year to comply with the new rules being developed in Iowa.
Coleman works closely with the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals to ensure the curriculum is relevant and applicable.
Kurt Ruber, Inspector for the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, said it was a pleasure working with Coleman and the other members of the Iowa Food Safety Team.
“She was at the forefront of helping not only manufacturers and industry, but also students,” Rueber said. “It’s a team effort and I’m glad we have such a close bond.”
As an assistant professor, Coleman teaches students about food science and food safety in the laboratory, and through her consulting work, she provides continuing education for the industry. She regularly voices the annual Iowa Farmers Market Association Conference in February, and her newsletters and publications can be found at farmers’ markets throughout Iowa.
In addition to the Home Food Operators course, Coleman also assists in personally administering Alliance Training for Industrial Safety, which explains the requirements of the federal Food Safety Modernization Act. For $20, members receive an update on the FSMA and what they need to do to qualify.
Donna Brahms, former president of the Iowa Farmers’ Market Association, said Coleman’s efforts went a long way in educating small-scale food producers and vendors.
“Shannon is a really good example of how to get the message out to the people who need it,” said Brahms, who runs 3 bee farms in southwestern Iowa with her family. “The training that Shannon gives is very essential to what we do and I’ve been through it myself.”
To be active
Brahms sells at six farmers’ markets a week, and said vendors need to learn if they’re going to sell food. Brahms said that even if a product doesn’t require a license, it’s still worth getting trained and familiar with best food handling practices.
Prevention is key, and Coleman’s training helps salespeople gain the knowledge they need to prevent food safety issues.
“If you know ahead of time what you need to do, you can keep yourself from selling unsafe products,” Coleman said.
She enjoys teaching food vendors what they need to know and watching them adapt food safety practices they may not have known about before.
“I love watching the ‘aha’ moment,” Coleman said. “You can give instructions here in the classroom, but when you do an interactive task and see that they really connect the dots, that’s the most rewarding part.”
A complete list of food safety training opportunities and standard operating procedures is available on the ISU Extension and Outreach Human Sciences website. Participants can register for the food safety training on the same website.
Additional Iowa food safety resources are also available on the website. Iowa Food Protection Task Force.
To learn more about programs in Iowa, Coleman can be contacted at 515-294-9011 or [email protected]
Photo Credits: 1. Organic fresh agricultural vendor Rawpixel.com/stock.adobe.com. 2. Variety of jams at the farmers’ market, Jolyn/stock.adobe.com.