Small Utah egg farmer gets a break with approval of inspection rule
Inspections • Agriculture Department amends rule to remedy inspection problem.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Clifford Family Farms can once again sell its fresh eggs to Utah restaurants and markets.

On Friday, the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food said it had amended its Utah Egg Grading and Inspection Rule to allow owners of small egg producing farms — fewer than 3,000 hens — to sell their products to larger commercial businesses such as restaurants and grocery stores.

The emergency rule takes effect immediately and is good for 120 days.

During that period, interested parties can comment and health officials will refine the rule "with the intent of making it permanent," said department spokesman Larry Lewis.

The decision ends a tenuous week for Julie Clifford. Last week the Provo egg farmer learned that several of her regular restaurant and grocery customers had been told by health inspectors to "cease and desist" using or selling her eggs because the farm was not properly inspected.

The irony is that Clifford's egg operation was too small to get federal inspections — that requires having at least 3,000 birds, and she only has 1,700. And the Utah Department of Agriculture had no inspection program for egg operations with fewer than 3,000 birds.

Clifford was still able to sell to individual customers who came to her farm or who purchased at a farmers market.

Earlier this week, state inspectors visited Clifford's farm to look over her operation.

"I still have a couple things I'm working on," she said Friday, "but I'm registered and I'm in compliance."

After Clifford's customers heard of her plight, dozens of them called the department and state lawmakers seeking a solution for the popular farmer.

They also bought a lot of Clifford eggs at last Saturday's winter market at the Rio Grande Depot.

"I took over four times what I normally sell, and I still ran out of eggs," she said, saying she was "amazed" at the customer response.

Under the new rule, farms with under 3,000 hens must follow guidelines that are similar to those required for larger farms. The rule only applies to farmers who sell to wholesale operations. Farmers who sell directly to customers who come to their farm or a farmers market are not bound by the regulations.

A few of the requirements under the new rule include routine salmonella testing; licensing and routine inspections through the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food; candling, to check for cracks and other defects when grading the eggs; potable water used for egg washing and handling; maintaining clean and dry nesting areas and cleaning eggs as needed after collecting; refrigeration of eggs after collecting; packaging and labeling specifications; and safe handling instructions and a pull-from-market dates.

Clifford said she already was conducting some of those tests, but she will have to add more and was not sure what the overall costs would be.

"I'm lucky, that I've had time to work up to this," she said. "It may be a problem for other smaller farms."

kathys@sltrib.com