Artisanal Agrifood Processing and Food Safety Regulation: Responding to the Concerns of Small Processors and Regulators in Michigan

2012 Annual Report for GNC10-134

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2010: $9,903.30
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Grant Recipient: Michigan State University
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Jim Bingen
Michigan State University

Artisanal Agrifood Processing and Food Safety Regulation: Responding to the Concerns of Small Processors and Regulators in Michigan


This qualitative study of the food safety regulation of artisan processing in Michigan aims to improve the regulatory process for handcraft food producers. Data collection consists of semi-structured interviews and focus groups with cheese, bread, and jam producers and Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development food safety inspectors. Preliminary findings, based on interviews conducted to date, indicate that positive interpersonal relationships between artisans and their inspectors may encourage creative problem solving and enable artisans to identify ways to comply with regulations while pursuing their own styles of production. Barriers to regulatory compliance have also been identified.

Objectives/Performance Targets

  • Improve processor knowledge about regulatory compliance and inspections, help them prepare better for inspections, and prevent misunderstandings that can cost time and money. Identify ways in which inspector directives and trainings can be improved and increase regulator awareness of small processor educational needs. Improve both groups’ understanding of each other’s perspectives and expectations.


Work accomplished to date

1. Convened meeting of project advisory committee on December 1, 2011. Committee members advised on participant selection and provided feedback on interview questions.

2. Selected participants:

a) Artisans (n = 24). The study focuses on cheese, bread, and jam production, three types of artisanship that are well-represented in Michigan. Artisans were identified through:
• internet searches for self-described handcraft producers of these products;
• snowball sampling—that is, processors contacted early in the project recommended other processors; and
• the assistance of the project advisory committee and other individuals and organizations familiar with food and agriculture in Michigan.
Nearly all producers contacted had been licensed for at least two years.

b) Inspectors (n = 9). Contact with inspectors was facilitated by Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) Food and Dairy Division supervisors. Artisan producers represent a small proportion of the facilities that inspectors evaluate, and supervisors identified inspectors who are familiar with artisan facilities.

3. Conducted 33 semi-structured interviews between January and July 2012:
• 24 producers (10 cheesemakers, 8 bread makers, and 6 jam producers, including staff of 2 incubator kitchens whose clients produce jam).
• 9 inspectors (6 Food inspectors and 3 Dairy inspectors).
• Duration 27 to 91 minutes, average 64 minutes.
• Interviews were audiorecorded and transcribed (31 interviews). Notes were taken by hand (2 interviews).

4. Analyzed interview data between January and September 2012:
• Imported notes and transcripts into NVivo qualitative analysis software (version 9).
• Coded for responses to interview questions.
• Identified additional themes in these responses. Based on these emergent themes, developed hierarchical coding scheme focusing on a) the technicalities of processor compliance with regulations and b) the interpersonal relationship between processors and inspectors.

5. Compiled summary of preliminary findings, September 2012:
• Submitted draft to project advisory committee for feedback.
• Posted the summary online (
• Contacted interview participants with brief project update and link to the summary.

Remaining work
  1. Conduct ~3 more interviews with inspectors. Convene project advisory committee in October 2012 for mid-project discussion of preliminary findings and remaining plans. Conduct focus groups in early 2013.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

  • In the intermediate term, it is expected that small processors will achieve more cost-effective compliance with food safety regulations; regulatory inspections, materials, and communication with small processors will improve; and food safety regulatory policy may change. In the long term, these changes are expected to improve the profitability and sustainability of small processor businesses, stimulate Michigan’s small agrifood sector, and enhance quality of life for agrifood producers, rural communities, and society as a whole.


Jim Bingen
Michigan State University
131 Natural Resources Bldg.
East Lansing, MI 48824
Office Phone: 5173531905