Food products produced in un-licensed kitchens that have not been inspected by public health inspectors or certified as meeting food safety standards may soon be available at farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and through on-farm sales in Wyoming.
House Bill 54, the Wyoming Food Freedom Act, passed out of a Wyoming House committee Thursday with a 6-3 vote. The bill, introduced by Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, exempts all “cottage foods”, or foods prepared in home kitchens, including potentially hazardous foods such as dairy products, canned foods, and sauces, from regulation.
This is the third legislative session in which Wallis has introduced a bill exempting cottage foods from regulation. Two years ago, Wallis introduced a similar bill. It did not pass through the Legislature, so last year she introduced a modified version, 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 non-hazardous 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.
While potentially hazardous foods have been exempted from sale thus far, critics fear an increased risk for foodborne illness outbreaks if House Bill 54 is passed into law.
In January, members of the Wyoming Governor’s Council on Food Safety planned to send letters to Gov. Dave Freudenthal and legislators cautioning against an expansion of the cottage foods exemption. Opposition to Houe Bill 54 comes not only from the council, but from public health officials, who have criticized the bill and those that came before it.
Those in opposition to the bill support 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.