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Public hearing set for new cottage foods law

May 3rd, 2012 | Category: Food, News

by Samantha Schuller

This July, food licenses will be granted to individuals baking or processing up to $15,000 of low-hazard food items a year from their home kitchens. Previously, no matter the dollar amount sold, the goods had to be made in a commercial kitchen, which is costly to construct, and in many places, not available to rent. The draft rule outlining this new cottage food law will be the subject of a public hearing on May 22 in Olympia.

Pickled vegetables are not allowed under the law. PHOTO BY ROBYN BRADLEY

The cost of a cottage foods license is $30, with an additional public health review fee of $75 and a kitchen inspection fee of $125, for a total of $230. Foods must be sold directly to customers, face-to-face, with no Internet sales or business across state lines.

Only non-potentially hazardous foods will be allowed to home processors; no foods that support the growth of dangerous bacteria like botulism will be permitted. Nothing a cottage food processor brings to market can require temperature control, either by refrigeration or heating. This means that all forms of meat are prohibited, as are most forms of dairy; a few exceptions apply to baked goods containing dairy and some frostings that are stabilized by high sugar content.

Cottage food processing kitchens do not need to have stainless steel surfaces or separate ovens, and three-compartment sinks are not needed as long as the home has a dishwasher for sanitizing. However, food requiring refrigeration must be stored in its own designated refrigerator, all counter tops must be non-porous and easily sanitized, kitchen floors must be free of carpeting and rugs, pet crates or litter boxes are prohibited in the kitchen, and the kitchen sink must never be used to clean pet boxes or pans, whether during processing hours or not.

The cottage licensee is the only person allowed to oversee the kitchen during processing hours, and no domestic use of the kitchen is allowed while processing is underway. The licensee and all helpers must have valid food-handler’s permits.

The application will require cottage food processors to submit several different kinds of information including all recipes and procedures, a diagram of the processing kitchen, and a written plan illustrating how pets and children under 6 will be kept out of the kitchen during processing hours. This can be by closing doors, putting up gates, leaving pets outside, or only processing when children are in the care of others. Applicants must also submit to an inspection of their kitchen by a WSDA agent and agree to allow inspectors to visit during their normal business hours, announced or unannounced.

When selling to the public at farmers’ markets, craft fairs, and bazaars, the cottage foods permit must be prominently displayed. Food should be prepackaged with the name of the item, the cottage processor’s name and address, and ingredients must be listed in the familiar format, in descending order by weight, with allergens listed per federal guidelines, “Contains: wheat, eggs, soy.” The label must also contain the wording, “Made in a Home Kitchen Not Subject to Standard Inspection Criteria” in the equivalent of at least 11-point type. Baked goods can be sold in bulk as long as they are kept in a sealed container while on display and have an ingredient list available for customers to review before purchase.

The permits expire on January 31 of the year following issuance; however, all permits granted in 2012 will be valid until January 31, 2014. If the cottage licensee decides to add new products or change any of their recipes during the year, a new application must be completed and a $75 application fee and $30 review fee paid. If there are changes to the kitchen premises, the whole process will need to be started over; application, fees, and inspection.

A public hearing will be held in the WSDA Olympia office on May 22 at 1 p.m. to review and finalize the draft rule. The WSDA will hear public comments at this time on any aspect of the rule, including questions and clarifications of any of the exceptions and allowances (for example, stove-top baked goods such as tortillas are not listed as prohibited, but do not fall under the category of permitted oven-baked goods). If no changes are to be made, the rule will be adopted and available for permit applications on July 1. When enacted, WSDA representatives recommend applying as soon as possible as they expect a backlog of applications and may not be able to approve permits for up to four weeks.

View the full draft at tinyurl.com/cottagefoods/. Written comments should be sent to: Julie Carlson, WSDA Food Safety and Consumer Services Division Coordinator, at jcarlson@agr.wa.gov or PO Box 42560, Olympia WA 98504-2560.

Published in the May 2012 issue of Grow Northwest magazine.

Correction: In the print article, the sidebar showing some of the foods permitted and prohibited contained an error. Infused vinegar with no garlic is permitted. Infused oils are not allowed.

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