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Virginia Bill Would Exempt Homes, Small Farms From Food Safety Laws

The cottage food movement that has gained traction in the states since about 2010 is continuing to take hold this legislative season.

Current law recently crafted in Virginia permits unlicensed home kitchens operating without inspections to produce a long list of cottage foods that can be sold in homes or at farmer’s markets. And, for most products, there is no sales limit. Take an extra step and obtain a license as a home food processor, and a home kitchen in Virginia can produce almost any type of food.

However, a bill introduced into the 2014 session of the Virginia House of Delegates doesn’t just move the goal posts for cottage foods, it pretty much removes them entirely.

Delegate Robert Bell (R-Charlottesville) wants to completely exempt homes and farms with 10 or fewer full-time employees from Virginia food laws. Bell is the chief patron, or primary sponsor, of Virginia House Bill 135, assigned to the Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources.

Bell’s proposed cottage food law would require labels stating that the products were made without state inspection. Virginia’s restriction for cottage foods to at-home or farmer’s markets sales would be lifted. Food safety advocates in Virginia say they are monitoring the bill and are prepared for any hearings its gets by the Delegates.

Legislative experts say in recent years state lawmakers have made it easier to make and sell so-called cottage foods from home kitchens in as many as 40 states.

While often thought of as baked goods, a long list of foods may be classified as cottage foods. Examples include biscuits, breads, brittles, brownies, cakes, caramel corn, cereals, chocolate, chocolate-covered items, cobblers, cones, cookies, cotton candy, crackers, crisps, dried fruit, drink mixes, dry coffee, dry tea, fudge, granola, hard candies, herbs, honey, jams and jellies, mixes, muffins, nuts and seeds, pasta, pastries, pickles, pies, popcorn, preserves, pretzels, rolls, scones, seasonings, soft candies, spices, sweet breads and vinegars.

Many states have embraced cottage food laws as an economic development strategy during a time of extended high unemployment and also as an endorsement of so-called food freedom. But cottage foods have not been any easy sell everywhere.

State Rep. Kathleen Williams (D-Bozeman) could not get the Montana Legislature to bite on her cottage food bill last session, but she did get a food law study bill passed to go through what Williams calls Montana’s “patchwork” of food laws. Big Sky Country lawmakers are expected to return to the issue after the study in 2015.

© Food Safety News
  • Exemptions from all food laws does not sound like the best of ideas.

    So what, we’ll now see a run of raw milk dairy products pushed everywhere in Virginia?

    The whole concept behind cottage food industry is its focused primarily on relatively safe foods, made in small quantities, and sold in food markets where people’s expectations are appropriately set.

    Removing all barriers except number of employees just opens the door for abuse.

    • butterfly

      Since these folks are selling directly to a small number of people, it’s going to be especially in their interest to make sure the food is safe. Food issues would be easy to trace. Businesses with issues would rapidly go out of business. No need for regulation.

      • Mr.HACCP

        Won’t getting a small number of people sick lower the chance to trace food issues, due to less people reporting illnesses to trace the outbreak? Also, this needs to be contemplated on a grander scale. If a lot of small businesses get a few people sick each, we’re looking at numerous small outbreaks that is just as devastating as one large outbreak.

      • That’s bunk. A company with less than 10 people can put out a prodigious amount of product if they have to automation to manage it. The limitation to this law is number of employees. That’s it. That and a label, which may or may not be read or fully understood.

        However, another commenter has stated that the bill is dead, so the people of Virginia are a wee bit safer.

      • crs

        Considering that people often mistake the source of a foodborne illness, it’s unlikely that the folks buying will realize that their illness came from the folks selling. So businesses might never discover that they have issues, at least not until a lot of people have been sickened. Happens all the time.

      • oldhamegg

        No need for regulation. Wait until someone gets sick and dies. It will regulate itself. It won’t be too late for anyone except the sick and the dead.

  • pawpaw

    This bill has been ‘tabled’ or ‘killed’ depending on the source I read. It failed to pass committee on 1/20.

  • Teresa Schoellkopf

    Home kitchens are cleaner than food processing plants. Chickens are scared of us little Home Canners, because we’re so clean… and we don’t use chemicals to screw consumers!

    • oldhamegg

      This has got to be one of the dumbest things I have ever read. There is no regulation in any home kitchen. Each home kitchen is different than every other home kitchen. It is a pretty typical canard thrown about that I guess I’m not that surprised to see on an article like this though. Unless it was a joke. Then you got me.

  • cloroxinthegenepoolplz

    Someone please elect Shelly Powers to Govern Virginia before it’s to late!