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Your Spring Edition of Field Notes Is Here!

Enjoy this quarterly newsletter from the Food Safety & Consumer Protection Division
of the
Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets

...and happy Spring!

April 2022

You asked, and we are responding!

Thank you to those who have replied to our survey and let us know what topics you would like to hear more about in 2022! That survey is still open, and we welcome your feedback. Give us a shout, and we will do our best to cover your topic(s) in future Field Notes editions.

In response to requests received thus far, this spring edition of Field Notes has a poultry flare! Whether you own poultry as pets or production animals, or purchase eggs or chicken, this edition of Field Notes is for you. You might be surprised to learn that multiple programs in the Food Safety & Consumer Protection Division regulate poultry and their products.  Keep reading to learn how to keep your birds safe from high pathogenic avian influenza, what to look for when you shop for local eggs at Vermont's signature farmer's markets and other retail outlets, and how to adhere to the inspection exemption if you produce meat birds.  

Spring in Vermont is Maple Season, and we haven't forgotten about this sweet signature product or the instruments that help sugarmakers ensure the liquid gold they produce is in-grade. We also invite you to take a peek into the ethos of the Vermont Dairy Section through the eyes of an award winning employee, learn how to protect your agricultural business, and familiarize yourself with the new name of a very pesky critter that has become an unwelcomed guest in many parts of Vermont. 
That sounds like something for everyone... We certainly hope so. Enjoy the read! 

- Kristin Haas, Director, Food Safety & Consumer Protection Division
Does Avian Influenza Matter to Me? Yes, It Definitely Does!
by: Dr. Kaitlynn Levine, Animal Health Section Chief & Assistant State Veterinarian
 
Throughout late winter and spring, you have probably heard a lot about avian influenza (AI). It is on the news and on the radio, and you may have read about it in several publications from the Agency of Agriculture. But you might be wondering if it applies to you, especially when Vermont has not had a poultry case yet. The answer is YES. Avian influenza matters to all of us!

Whether you rely on poultry for your income, own a backyard flock, or just enjoy eggs for breakfast, an outbreak of AI in Vermont could impact you. During the 2015 AI outbreak that impacted the Midwest, egg prices increased 61% due to scarcity. Nearly 50 million birds died. Our country suffered $3.3 billion in total economic impact, thanks to AI. Those are large numbers, but AI is not only a disease of large poultry flocks; AI does not discriminate based on flock size. While the largest US flock affected so far this year had millions of birds, the smallest had only 6!

Vermont poultry is especially high-risk for AI because most of our birds are raised outdoors, free ranged, and often in mixed flocks, making them more likely to encounter the species of wild birds that can carry the virus. Avian influenza virus can spread directly through poultry-wild bird contact and can also be spread to poultry by contaminated people, equipment, and supplies.
Ducks and other wild waterfowl carry avian influenza and may transmit it to poultry through direct or indirect contact
Now you might be saying to yourself, “AI infections didn’t occur in Vermont the last time, so why would this time be different?” This time IS different. In 2014/2015 the virus managed to stay out of the Eastern Flyway, for the most part. This means that the wild ducks and geese migrating through Vermont didn’t harbor high enough levels of AI to pose much of a risk to our poultry.

This time, however, AI is in our flyway and has already affected many of our agricultural friends and neighbors. New Hampshire, New York, Maine, Connecticut and Massachusetts are included in the 26 states that have all had domestic birds affected by AI in recent months. Only wild birds have tested positive in Vermont thus far, but we must remain diligent to protect our domestic poultry from this deadly virus. We are requesting your help with that effort.
Maintain strong biosecurity practices when managing your poultry!
Keep reading to find out how to do this...
This brings us to the most important question you may have:  “But what can I do to prevent this?” A lot, and you might be surprised by how familiar some of these steps sound! If you own poultry, whether 5 or 5 million, check out these recommendations to keep disease away from your flock. Limit contact with wildlife by keeping your birds inside or in fenced enclosures away from ponds, streams, and compost piles that wild birds may have access to. Only allow the people that need to take care of your flock in your coops or runs. Decreasing foot traffic of all kinds through the birds’ living areas will minimize tracking unwanted virus on shoes, clothes, and skin. Maintain a pair of dedicated boots for use only in your poultry areas or utilize a cleaning and disinfecting station when you enter and leave those areas. Before attending poultry events this spring, check out the Pros and Cons list published by the University of Maine. And as always, wash your hands frequently!
One last question for you: Who are you going to call with concerns about your poultry? Easy answer: the Agency of Agriculture! If your birds are sick or die unexpectedly, call us at 802-828-2421. We need to hear from you because detecting AI infections early can stop disease spread from farm to farm.

For more information about avian influenza please check out the Agency of Agriculture website or the
USDA’s Defend the Flock webpage. Thank you for protecting your birds! A few easy steps taken at home can ensure Vermont’s entire poultry population stays safe and healthy!

Deciphering Sizes, Grades, and Codes on Egg Cartons
by: Tucker Diego, Agricultural Products Manager

Do you sell eggs from your backyard poultry flock? Do you buy eggs at farmers' markets or grocery stores? Have you ever wondered what is required for grading and labeling chicken eggs? Whether you are producing or buying, here's the scoop...

All chicken eggs sold in Vermont must meet basic grade and labeling requirements. When consumers or poultry producers have questions about eggs, they can contact the Agricultural Products section through the
Agency website. The Agency doesn’t normally perform egg quality inspections, but it does have authority over how eggs are labeled and sold and can send an Agricultural Products inspector to follow up on egg related complaints as they occur. Here are the basic requirements:

Size
Egg size is based on the minimum weight of a dozen eggs. The legal minimum weight for a dozen individual large eggs is 23 oz. (24 oz. with the carton). The graphic below from USDA shows the minimum weight of other common egg sizes along with the nutritional information.1

 
Graphic showing egg sizes by weight and nutrition
Grade
Each container of eggs sold at retail must be assigned a grade to indicate quality. The three commercial grades are AA, A, and B. Most eggs which are clean, unbroken, and fresh (i.e., packed within 30 days of laying) will meet grade A standards. Producers wishing to meet the AA standards should refer to USDA or Vermont grade specifications when inspecting their eggs to ensure they meet the higher standard.2 Grade B eggs allow for a greater percentage of eggs with checks (cracks) and a larger air gap (an indicator of freshness). Dirty eggs, leakers (eggs with cracks and damaged membrane), or eggs with other significant deficiencies are not approved for sale. Additional factors when assessing egg quality include shell shape and texture, the appearance of the yolk, and characteristics of the albumen (the egg white). Shell color is not a quality factor, but most eggs are separated by color to meet consumer preferences.

USDA Seal of Quality
Egg producers may choose to participate in USDA’s voluntary egg quality program which provides independent third-party verification that grade standards are being met and allows producers to label their eggs with a USDA shield logo. Eggs not produced under a USDA egg quality program, but which are sold in re-used cartons must have the USDA shield crossed out.
Examples of Grade A and Grade AA USDA quality shield logos
Fresh and clean
Vermont egg law does not specifically require producers wash their eggs; however, it does require that eggs and egg cartons are clean. Most large commercial egg producers wash eggs to meet consumer expectations and to prevent harmful pathogens from contaminating eggs. USDA guidelines recommend washing eggs with water at least 20 °F warmer than the internal temperature of the eggs and at a minimum of 90 °F. Eggs washed with cold water increases the chance for pathogens to be drawn through the shell and into the egg. USDA recommends drying eggs immediately after washing and always keeping eggs refrigerated to maintain quality.

Expiration, best-buy, and packing dates
Only grade AA or A eggs are allowed to be labeled as fresh. A common way producers track freshness is with a date printed on the carton. Expiration dates are commonly labeled as “EXP” or “Sell by” and indicate the date at which a product should no longer be sold. Expiration dates for eggs should not exceed 30 days from the packing date. “Best by” or “Use by” dates generally indicate the maximum time eggs are considered fresh. This terminology should not exceed 45 days from the packing date. Lastly, the packing date itself may be marked on cartons in the form of a lot code in the Julian calendar format (i.e., consecutive days of the year). The packing date can be used to estimate quality and for traceability purposes in the event of a recall.
Producer Name and Address
Many small-scale egg producers sell their eggs from the farm, at farmers' markets, or by other direct to consumer methods. Even the smallest egg producer should remember to include on their egg carton the producer’s name and address. If eggs are produced by a farm but packed or distributed by another business, then the label should accurately describe that relationship, such as by indicating “Produced for and distributed by ____” or “distributed by ____.” Additional labeling requirements can be found in the Vermont
Weights and Measures Labeling guide.
Sources
1. A Carton of Eggs - A True Baker's Dozen. Accessed 3/21/2022. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2013/12/23/carton-eggs-true-bakers-dozen.
2. USDA Egg Grading Manual. Accessed 3/21/2022. https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Egg%20Grading%20Manual.pdf.
Raising Poultry for Meat
by: Julie Boisvert, Meat Programs Section Chief
 
Now let's shift to raising poultry for meat purposes. Inquiring minds want to know...
 
Raising backyard poultry is one of the fastest growing trends for small and beginning farmers and allows poultry owners the ability to manage small-scale animal agricultural enterprises without having to invest in in large amounts of capital, land, time, or equipment. Raising backyard chickens can also be a rewarding experience for kids and a great way to teach them about nature, agriculture, and how to care for animals.
Vermont has experienced an increase in small poultry producers raising and slaughtering their poultry on their own farms and selling poultry food products directly to customers without inspection. The Vermont Meat Inspection Program advises producers wishing to engage in this business type. Selling poultry products under this Exemption from Inspection has its benefits, but it also limits how the poultry product may be processed and sold. Poultry food products sold under the Exemption from Inspection are known as “exempt poultry” and must only be sold as whole birds. This is because processing whole birds into smaller individual cuts increases the risk for harmful pathogen contamination and therefore requires sanitation oversight by a state or federal poultry inspector and use of proper temperature controls to protect consumers.

Exempt poultry may be sold to consumers directly from the farm or at farmers’ markets. Exempt poultry may only be sold to restaurants if there are written statements informing patrons that the products were processed without inspection. And of course, exempt poultry may be used for personal use.
Exempt poultry must also be labeled properly. All labels must include the name and address of the farm, a statement that is prominently displayed as “Exempt per 6 V.S.A 3312(b): NOT INSPECTED”, and safe handling and cooking instructions.
 
Please remember that farmers producing more than 20,000 birds annually or owners wanting to sell poultry products in ways other than those allowed under the Exemption from Inspection must acquire inspection from a state or federal poultry inspector.

Those who do choose to slaughter poultry on the farm under the Exemption from Inspection, whether for personal use or sale to customers, should always understand and follow sanitary standards and practices.
  • Make sure you have ample supply of potable running water and a plan in place to remove waste.
  • Ensure equipment and utensils used for the process are in good repair, clean, and free of rust.
  • Monitor your grounds and prevent harborage and breeding of pests.
  • Wear clean clothing, aprons, and frocks to prevent contamination.
  • Follow good biosecurity practices to protect your backyard flock from high pathogenic avian influenza and other diseases.
With a few good sanitation techniques in place, you will be on your way to producing wholesome poultry for your own use or for sale directly to your customers.

For more information on the requirements around processing and selling exempt poultry, please visit the Agency of Agriculture’s website at https://agriculture.vermont.gov/.
In Case You Missed It... Vermont Recognized Weights and Measures Week in Sweet Style!
by: Marc Paquette, Weights and Measures Section Chief & State Metrologist
 
In the March 2021 inaugural edition of Field Notes we introduced you to Weights and Measures (W&M) Week with a celebration of a "big ole' truck"! We shifted gears (no pun intended) for this year's W&M Week celebration and turned our attention to maple; we are in Vermont after all! 

In case you need a refresher... Weights and Measures Week commemorates the signing of the first US weights and measures law by President John Adams on March 2, 1799.  The evolution of a uniform weights and measures system provides consistency and confidence in the marketplace for consumers and businesses. All participants in an economy are more likely to engage openly in trade if they are assured of fairness in transactions.  W&M programs contribute greatly to economic development by promoting equity in the marketplace for the benefit of all stakeholders.

This year’s iteration of the Weights and Measures Week celebration highlighted the ways in which the W&M Metrology Laboratory serves Vermont’s robust maple syrup industry. Hydrometers measure the density of liquids, and when used in the production of maple syrup or sale of sap, they measures the sugar content in the liquid. All maple syrup hydrometers sold in Vermont and used in the production of syrup, and all hydrometers used to derive a selling price for sap, are required to be tested and approved by the Agency’s W&M program. The Metrology Laboratory provides testing to ensure that these hydrometers are within legally prescribed tolerances, allowing Vermont maple syrup to meet the highest national density standards and ensuring that sap hydrometers determine an accurate sugar content. This maintains equity between the buyers and sellers of maple sap.  
Maple syrup hydrometer in testing solution.
The Metrology Lab tests hydrometers manufactured in multiple states and several foreign countries. Distributors of maple hydrometers are located throughout the maple producing regions of North America. Hydrometers have been submitted for testing by distributors from many states, including New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New York, Wisconsin, Indiana, Connecticut, and Michigan. Vermont maple producers may submit their previously used hydrometers to the lab for tolerance testing to confirm those devices are still accurate for use.     
 
The number of hydrometers tested by the Agency’s Metrology Lab is testament to the vibrant North American maple industry, and the submissions for testing from multiple states' distributers highlight the continued leadership role the State of Vermont plays in this expanding and dynamic marketplace.  The number of hydrometers tested in recent years includes: 8,832 in 2021, 7,459 in 2020, and 8,568 in 2019. Over the last decade the Metrology Lab has tolerance tested approximately 85,000 syrup and sap hydrometers.
Hundreds of maple syrup hydrometers ready for testing.
A short YouTube clip on the Agency’s role in hydrometer testing can be found at the following site: https://youtu.be/GjpfdDO1nKo .  
  
W&M programs exist world-wide with some regional regulations based on local economies and products produced.  This year’s Weights and Measures Week served as a reminder of the great value consumers receive from Vermont’s W&M program.  These programs impact businesses, consumers, and local and international economies. The next time you purchase maple syrup or gasoline, or take a trip to the grocery store or receive a delivery of fuel at your home, remember that Vermont’s dedicated W&M team is working diligently to ensure accuracy, fairness, and consumer protection in the marketplace.      
    
For more information about the Agency of Agriculture’s W&M program, contact Marc Paquette at 
marc.paquette@vermont.gov or 802-828-2426
Greg's Legacy Will Benefit Us All!
by: E.B. Flory, Dairy Programs Section Chief
 
When Agency of Agriculture Dairy Section employees head out to perform their job duties each day, they put on their proverbial public service hats with a mission to serve Vermonters, keep our dairy supply safe for consumers, and support Vermont’s dairy industry. Greg Lockwood epitomized what a public servant can be and accomplish, and instilled its importance in his colleagues during his lengthy tenure as a Dairy Products Specialist and then Supervisor within the Dairy Section.  Greg recently retired, and while he is still in the “honeymoon phase” of that transition, we wanted to recognize Greg’s accomplishments and the impact he has had on the Vermont dairy industry, and assure you that the public service ethic that Greg embodied is still going strong in the Agency’s Dairy team, for the benefit of us all!
 
Greg started his dairy career by “cutting his teeth” at Fairdale Farms for 10 years before transitioning to work for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, where he remained for 33.5 years serving Vermonters by inspecting dairy processors and assisting dairy processing startup businesses. At the time of his retirement in March 2022, 90% of Greg’s regulatory “clients” were farmstead operations, and large processors of Vermont milk made up the rest.  

 
Greg taking a quick break to say hello in the middle of a busy day!
Throughout his career, Greg guided aspiring and established dairy processors to ensure their compliance with regulatory standards as they produce high-quality safe dairy products. How big of an impact did Greg make in his career?  When Greg began work at the Agency of Agriculture in 1988, there were 53 processing plants in Vermont. There are currently 156 processing plants in our state with more scheduled to come online as you read this. In fact, Vermont now has more dairy processing facilities than the state of New York! 

Greg notes that the Dairy Section’s ability to support these businesses is a team effort. All Dairy Section farm and plant specialists are proud of their ability to regulate AND assist Vermont’s dairy businesses, and the Agency of Agriculture’s management team supports and promotes this important mission. The technical assistance, guidance, and support the Dairy Section offers to new processors is unique compared to other states’ dairy regulatory programs. This has put Vermont in a rare upward trend for new dairy processors and investments coming into our local economies. The Agency's Dairy Section has worked with Greg to ensure that Vermonters will still receive the same support and technical expertise to assist their new or existing dairy business, even after Greg’s recent retirement.
 
Greg has offered countless hours helping new processors design their plants and diversify their businesses, advising them on regulatory standards, training individuals on how to operate equipment, and providing overall support and guidance through the startup process to help these new businesses launch. 
On his last day at work... Greg holding a Vermont flag that was flown over the Statehouse in his honor  
photo credit: Anson Tebbetts
Greg has been recognized and honored for his work ethic and positive impact by two Governors.  Former Governor Peter Shumlin stated on January 17, 2013, "Thank you for your hard work in the Agency of Agriculture in support of growing Vermont's agricultural economy.  I have heard from some of the farmers with whom you work about your expertise, and I understand that your instruction has been pivotal in the successful certification of several Vermont farms." On May 8, 2017, Governor Phillip Scott presented Greg with a Public Service Recognition award for being an "Outstanding State Employee in demonstrating commitment, talent, and leadership in public service."  Lastly, Greg is also the 2014 John C. Finley Memorial Award recipient.   
Greg and his wife, Darlene, on a rare vacation!
Greg has entered his retirement and is enjoying the ability to spend more time with his wife, Darlene Lockwood, their children, and grandchildren. You may now find Greg in the woods calling turkeys in or on his boat reeling in large fish. He is missed by his Agency peers but certainly not forgotten; Greg’s work ethic and commitment to public service lives in each of them. The Agency’s Dairy Section looks forward to maintaining Greg’s legacy and building on it for a brighter future.  After all, that is exactly what Greg would do!
We will all be on the lookout for this unwelcomed resident in 2022 and beyond, but did you know?

The common name formerly used to describe the invasive moth Lymantria dispar dispar has been officially changed from the European gypsy moth to spongy moth by the Entomological Society of America (ESA). In keeping with the tenor of our times, the ESA created a “Better Common Names” project to review and change the names of insects whose appellations may be offensive or that may contribute to the maintenance of ethnic or racial stereotypes. The term gypsy is a perjorative term for the Roma people. For more information about the Better Common Names project go to https://www.entsoc.org/better-common-names-project.
 
While the ESA solicited public input on the name change and went through the process of selection from the 200 suggested names, members of the public and the scientific community were encouraged to refer to Lymantria dispar dispar by the initials of its Latin name, LDD. Now that the ESA has made a decision, the public and scientists can use the new common name of spongy moth. This name is used in Canada and France, (in French it is la spongieuse).
Vermont Intelligence Center – Information Sharing initiative
by: Ken Deschaine, Counter-Terrorism/Critical Infrastructure Analyst
With all of the upheaval that is happening around the globe, it is increasingly important for owners, managers and employees of farms and food processing, sales and distribution businesses to remain vigilant. Doing so will enable you to better protect your business and investment in Vermont agriculture! Please consider signing up for Food and Ag Sector email alerts from the Vermont Intelligence Center.
See below for a request from Analyst Deschaine...
 
Good day, Food and Agriculture partners! I hope everyone is doing well and looking forward to the warmer weather that is just around the corner. It has been a very busy winter here in the Public Safety/Homeland Security realm.

The VIC has created e-mail mailing lists for all of our critical infrastructure partners, including the Food and Agriculture sector. Some of you may already have received some of our Cyber Threat Advisory Bulletins that we started pushing out in late December 2021. The intent of these distribution lists is NOT to flood you with useless information. Our goal is to share current and relevant information regarding potential or known threats to your industry, so that you can be in the best position to protect your livelihood.

In the coming weeks we will begin publishing awareness products for you. There will be two types of products that you will see from the VIC:
  • Threat Advisory Bulletin: warning of potential imminent threat to the Food and Ag sector on a national/state level – singular event related. These will be sent out as we get them.
  • Information Summary: compilation of information products produced regarding the overall security of the Food and Ag sector. These will be sent out on a weekly to monthly basis, dependent on level of reporting regarding the sector.
I will also be sending this information out via the distribution list that we have created. If you do not receive these e-mails and want to be added to the list, please contact me directly at Kenneth.deschaine@vermont.gov. If you receive the e-mail, and want to be removed from the list, likewise, contact me directly via e-mail and I will promptly remove you from the list.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly.
 
Ken Deschaine
Counter-Terrorism/Critical Infrastructure Analyst
Vermont Intelligence Center
Vermont State Police
Vermont Department of Public Safety
188 Harvest Lane
Williston, VT 05495
Cell: (802) 585-4735
Thank you for reading this Spring 2022 edition of Field Notes!

We are grateful you are with us and look forward to continuing to educate and entertain you throughout 2022.

If you have colleagues or friends in your professional or personal circles who you think would benefit from receiving Field Notes, please let them know they can
subscribe to future editions here!

To review prior editions of Field Notes,
visit the Agency's website.

And don't forget to
let us know what you want to know in 2022!


See ya this summer, Vermont!


Unless otherwise noted, all uncaptioned photos in this newsletter are sourced from iStock Photo
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