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Food Liability and Insurance

Food liability and insurance are often primary concerns for dining services that are trying to start a local food program. When working with large distributors such as Sysco, food services often have liability insurance in the event of food poisoning and other unexpected problems. The food service can hire a third-party to inspect the facilities that produce their food in order to further minimize risk. In a local food system, there are simply too many vendors for third-party inspections to be economically viable. Therefore, there is some degree of risk that the food service must undertake in a local food system.

Still, when a local food system is well executed, it doesn’t require as many precautions as an industrial system might. Many liability issues can be easily resolved if the dining service finds quality local vendors and builds trusting relationships with them. For example, Wilma Hershberger’s pickling operation is inspected by both the Ohio and Federal Departments of Agriculture, so there is no real need for Kenyon to hire a third party inspector. These small-scale, high-quality cottage industries are ideal, because the vendor already sells the product and has been inspected to do so, but there is also room for the business to grow, which the college can support. More importantly, the personal relationships that form between vendor and buyer mean that food service employees actually visit the vendors’ farms or facilities in person and can see that they are clean and well run. The informal “inspections” afforded by these visits may not be official, but they can be more effective than one-time third party inspections, because they are ongoing and conducted by those who regularly use the product.

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