Members of the Wyoming Governor’s Council on Food Safety are planning to send letters to Gov. Dave Freudenthal and legislators cautioning against an expansion of the cottage food exemption during the legislative session scheduled to begin on Feb. 8.
This will be the third session in which the council will address problems related to cottage foods–foods prepared in home kitchens–in a bill sponsored by Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse.
Two years ago, Wallis introduced a bill to exempt all cottage foods, including potentially hazardous foods such as dairy products, canned foods, and sauces, from regulation. The bill did not pass through the Legislature, so last year she introduced a modified version of the bill, which exempted only non-hazardous foods, such as jams, cookies, and bread, from regulation.
This second bill passed, and as a result on July 1, 2009 it became legal to sell home-produced foods at roadside stands and farmers markets. Prior to the passage of the new bill, homemade foods could only be sold at religious or charitable events if the seller’s kitchen was not inspected and licensed.
Although members of the council have not seen this year’s bill sponsored by Wallis, which will be introduced during the new budget session, council members expect it to be the same as the original, unmodified bill, which would allow the sale of potentially hazardous foods produced in uninspected kitchens by unlicensed sellers.
“I just feel like the bureaucracy, the food inspection bureaucracy, has gone completely overboard, and is infringing on our constitutional rights to produce things and sell things and consume things and buy things that they have absolutely no justification for doing,” said Wallace. “I really think licensing has no bearing on food safety.”
Opposition to the bill comes not only from the council, but from public health officials, who have criticized the bill and those that came before it. John Drinnon, Director of Environmental Health for the Casper-Natrona County Health Department, believes in the inspection and licensing process because it allows inspectors to help cottage businesses minimize the risk of distributing foods contaminated with foodborne pathogens, which cause foodborne illness.
Maintaining a clean kitchen and properly handling ingredients are key to preventing foodborne illness.