Small-scale ice cream makers take a licking under Ontario's dairy rules
Some are calling for changes to ice cream rules they say are difficult to follow
Pascale's All Natural Ice Cream has been making small-batch ice cream in Ottawa for 13 years, but owner Pascale Berthiaume says the provincial Milk Act has left her business stuck in "dairy purgatory".
Berthiaume says her kitchen almost closed down this year after running afoul of Ontario's Milk Act.
Although her kitchen was regularly inspected by Ottawa Public Health, she says she unknowingly violated provincial rules.
"I am an honest, small ice cream business and I do want to follow the rules. But they just are very onerous and it was really hard for me to navigate through all this."
Ontario's dairy regulations
According to the Act, ice cream makers aren't allowed to sell wholesale to other businesses without a dairy plant licence.
"I needed to retrofit my existing commercial kitchen to be in accordance with the Milk Act, and I was just not very familiar with those rules and regulations," Berthiaume said.
Making and selling ice cream directly to consumers does not require a dairy plant licence.
Berthiaume says food safety is important, but she doesn't understand why the rules allow her to sell directly to customers and not wholesale.
Rules may disadvantage small businesses
The Milk Act is regulated by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Foods and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).
"Distribution of milk products to persons other than directly to consumers creates additional risks by making traceability of products more difficult should a food safety issue occur," the ministry said in a statement.
"Licensing dairy operations ensures effective oversight for critical food safety controls."
Other small-batch ice cream makers say they have also found the rules difficult to navigate.
Ajoa Mintah owns Four All Ice Cream in the Waterloo area. She says despite consulting both city health inspectors and the province to ensure her business was in accordance with all the rules, she almost found herself in the same situation as Berthiaume.
Mintah says she didn't know she wasn't following the Act until she saw a competitor get shut down for not having a dairy plant licence.
"My wish is that OMAFRA made that information a lot more accessible and [used] plainer language," Mintah said.
"I also wish OMAFRA had a piece where they're educating the municipalities...I wish the municipalities knew what they could and could not approve."
Amy Proulx, a Niagara College professor who specializes in culinary innovation and food technology, says these rules weren't made with small-scale ice cream makers in mind.
She says part of the problem is small businesses don't have the tools to lobby for their interests the way big businesses do.
Proulx says she would like to see food safety measures managed differently to allow businesses like Berthiaume's to succeed.
"Is she providing appropriate traceability? So, for example, putting date marks on her ice cream tubs so if there was a problem or consumer complaints that she would be able to do a proper investigation."
In the meantime, Berthiaume is still selling ice cream to the public at weekend events.
While her business is scaled down, she says she has learned from the experience and is working on a plan to return to wholesaling.
"Hopefully I'll just be stronger and smarter and to be able to, you know, continue doing what I love."