Growers look to higher food safety standards
Some shoppers stroll to their neighborhood farmers’ market because they want to support local food producers. Others are there because they are afraid of getting salmonella.
The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources found that food safety is one of the main reasons that people prefer to buy local produce. The department also observed that nationwide recalls of tainted foods have a negative impact on sales of the same kinds of foods that are grown locally and are entirely safe. Hence the creation of the Commonwealth Quality Seal program, whose blue ribbon-like seal appears on in-state products ranging from lobster to lumber.
To earn the Commonwealth Quality seal, a farmer must follow a code inspired by the US Department of Agriculture’s Good Agricultural Practices procedures and a guide created by the MDAR, the Massachusetts Farm Bureau, the UMass Extension Center for Agriculture, and representative groups from various industries. Obtaining the seal is purely elective and denotes a producer who chooses to exceed standard requirements for safe handling practices and environmental stewardship.
The program began last year and covers forestry, fruits, vegetables, lobster, and aquaculture products. Eventually the state hopes to certify maple, honey, and dairy items as well as prepared foods such as jams, jellies, and sauces. One day the seal may also appear in the windows of restaurants that prominently feature Commonwealth Quality ingredients. For now, look for it at farm stands, farmers’ markets, and select stores. At present there are roughly 60 Commonwealth Quality producers, including Allandale Farm in Brookline and Billingsgate Farm in Plympton.
For a list of Commonwealth Quality members, visit www.mass.gov/agr/cqp.
Aaron Kagan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.