CORNUCOPIA, WI - Enjoying fresh apple cider is a wonderful fall tradition in Wisconsin. But lately, some individuals have noticed that fresh cider seemed absent from farmer's markets and farm stands around the state. After some Wisconsin food safety inspectors misinterpreted state laws as prohibiting the sale of raw apple cider at farmers markets, many apple growers shied away from bringing their freshly pressed cider to public markets.
Through the efforts of The Cornucopia Institute, a national family farm research group based in Wisconsin, the confusion has been cleared up by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). Their Bureau of Food Safety & Inspection clarified that apple growers are indeed allowed to sell raw apple cider at farmers markets, when several criteria are met.
Growers may sell unpasteurized apple cider at farmers markets, only if they have pressed and bottled the cider at their own farms. In addition to farmers markets they can sell cider directly off their farms, at farm stands they operate, through community sponsored agriculture programs (CSAs) and even door-to-door.
"There is no fresh food that we eat that doesn't carry some risk associated with it, said Charlotte Vallaeys, Farm & Food Policy Analyst with Cornucopia. Many consumers believe that raw, unprocessed foods offer superior nutrition. The DATCP rules are intended to minimize risks and educate the consumer, added Vallaeys.
Wisconsin farmers may only sell their unpasteurized cider directly to consumers, not wholesale, and must affix a warning label on each container to alert consumers that the cider has not been treated to reduce the likelihood of bacterial contamination.
In response to a 1996 E. coli outbreak that was traced to Odwalla apple juice, the FDA requires all juice that is distributed wholesale, or sold through retail outlets, to be pasteurized in an effort to prevent foodborne illness. These commercial products normally travel great distances and might not be as fresh as locally produced cider.
For small-scale and local growers who press their own apples at the farm, and who follow responsible agricultural practices to prevent contamination, pasteurization may not be an option due to the costs involved. They can genuinely prevent contamination by following good agricultural and processing practices for example, by using only apples that were picked straight off the tree and never apples that have fallen to the ground.
For local growers wishing to sell raw apple cider directly to their customers, the clarification by the Bureau of Food Safety and Inspection that they may indeed sell their raw apple cider at farmers markets is welcome news, said Vallaeys.
While pasteurization kills pathogens that may have contaminated the cider, some consumers seek out raw cider because they believe that pasteurization also kills beneficial enzymes and nutrients, and therefore adversely affects the quality and flavor of what they call a "living food."
If purchased directly from a local grower who followed good agricultural practices, they argue, the likelihood of bacterial contamination is too low to justify the impact on quality through pasteurization.
A fact sheet, designed to educate Wisconsin apple growers, including applicable state and federal regulations, can be accessed at:
The Cornucopia Institute is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community. Through research, advocacy and economic development our goal is to empower farmers both politically and through marketplace initiatives. www.cornucopia.org.