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Illinois new raw milk rules get first legislative tests

Three bills introduced into the Illinois General Assembly loosen up cottage food sales and promote farmers markets, but apparently are not intended to alter the state’s new raw milk law.

Illinois in 2016 aligned itself with the surrounding states of Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin by prohibiting any retail sales of milk without pasteurization. On-farm sales are permitted under new regulations.

Raw-milk2_406x250Raw milk cheese aged 60 days can be sold under a separate permit, but sales of other unpasteurized raw milk products are also prohibited.

Three bills, two in the House and one in the Senate, have been introduced in Springfield, making changes for farmers markets and cottage food producers. All three measures, with very similar language, have been assigned to committees.

All three call for establishing a state Farmers Market Task Force “to address farmers market vendor complaints regarding the reasonableness of local health departments” fee and sanitation provisions.”

The proposals also call for providing farmers market vendors with “effective means to maintain potentially hazardous food at a specific temperature.” That language is apparently intended to allow vendors to use ice chests to keep food cold. Currently refrigerators are required.

Lawmakers are also promising the legislation will ease regulations on the sale of raw or unprocessed milk, but the bills appear to fall short of doing that, at least as introduced. All three are susceptible to such amendments, though, as they go through the legislative process.

Language in the bills also calls for making it possible for hand-washing stations to be shared by farmers market vendors.

New rules regarding unpasteurized raw milk, which were approved by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, took effect July 1, 2016, after a three-year regulatory process.

Illinois had long prohibited selling raw milk, expect on the farm. The 2016 rules make those common practices law, and for the first time give the Illinois Department of Public Health comprehensive enforcement authority.

To continue with on-the-farm sales of unpasteurized raw milk, a permit is required that is backed up by proper sanitation, storage and milking environment and practices. Labeling, consumer advisories and periodic testing is also required.

Raw milk can be purchased on about 60 farms in Illinois. Illinois officials said they wanted to regulate raw milk without driving it further underground.

The Illinois raw milk rules cover milk from cows, sheep or goats that has not been pasteurized.  Without pasteurization, harmful bacteria is not killed and consumers may be sickened by any number of pathogens including E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella and others.

Illinois experienced four outbreaks between 2006 and 2010 that were traced by to raw milk or raw milk cheese, which together sickened 140 people.

Both House Bill 2820, sponsored by Rep. Steven A. Andersson, R-Geneva, and House Bill 3063, sponsored by Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, were assigned Wednesday to the House Business Incentives for Local Communities Committee.

Senate Bill 1469, sponsored by Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria, and two Chicago Democrats, Sens Jacqueline Y. Collins and Patricia Van Pelt, remains in the Assignments Committee.

Illinois is a split Red-Blue state with Democrats controlling both chambers in the General Assembly, 36-to-22 in the Senate, and 76-to-51 in the House. Governor of Illinois is Bruce Rauner, a Republican.

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