Oversight of the cottage foods industry remains a mixed bag across the country with differences ranging from what can be sold and where, to if ingredient labels are required, whether the home kitchen should be licensed or inspected, and whether or not the cottage food producer needs any training in safe food handling and processing.
Benjamin Chapman, PhD, associate professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University, says that a recent troubling trend is the increasing use of Facebook as a “food sales vehicle,” where items for sale have included ham and cheese dishes, tamales cooked in a garage, cheesecake, and lumpia.
Food safety concerns for this industry should not be any different than for the rest of the food industry, he says. “Food businesses, whether they are cottage food producers or multinationals, need to know the hazards associated with all their products, how to reduce the risk of the hazard, and then actually do it every day,” says Dr. Chapman, who blogs about “safe food from farm to fork” on www.barfblog.com.
Some states offer cottage food law and food safety training courses for those in the cottage foods industry. A program offered in Michigan reminds cottage foods producers that even though they do not need a state license or inspection, they are responsible for safe products.
The Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO) outlines the best food safety practices for the industry, including name and address labels of the cottage food operation, lists of ingredients and potential allergens, and a notice specifying that the food was made in a cottage food operation that is not subject to routine government food safety inspection. A cottage food producer should be subject to an inspection in the case of food safety concerns, according to AFDO.
AFDO defines cottage food as made in a home kitchen of a person’s primary domestic residence and a product that is only for sale directly to the consumer. The organization’s list of allowable cottage foods includes those that do not require temperature control for safety. Acidified foods, low-acid canned foods, garlic in oil, and fresh fruit and vegetables, such as raw seed sprouts or juices, should not be permitted as cottage foods, AFDO says.
Across the country, however, states have widely different standards and definitions. The Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic found that some states allow bakery products, candy, fruit butter, jams, jellies, and similar products. California also allows those items, with some qualifiers, but also honey and sweet sorghum syrup, vinegar and mustard, roasted coffee and dried tea, and waffle cones and pizelles. Wisconsin permits the sale of pickled fruits and vegetables but not refrigerator pickles, according to the report.
Regulations vary even within certain states. An effort to create consistent standards for the industry was recently sent back to a legislative committee in Idaho, with no further action anticipated this year. The Capital Press reported that Idaho has seven health districts, all with different standards for cottage foods.
Holliman is a veteran journalist with extensive experience covering a variety of industries. Reach her at [email protected].