North Dakota health officials want state legislators to clarify rules about so-called cottage foods because of concerns about botulism poisoning.

The State Health Council, which includes two state senators, approved the proposed changes during a special meeting this week. The council doesn’t want additional regulations but rather wants to make clear certain aspects of existing law, according to a statement released by top health officials.

Specifically, the rules about home-canned foods are at the core of the proposed changes. Improper canning related to common mistakes in the process can lead to the growth of Clostridium botulinum, which creates the toxin that causes botulism poisoning.

“It’s not uncommon for law to need additional clarification after a new bill is passed,” said Mylynn Tufte, North Dakota State Health Officer. 

“The proposed rules clarify definitions and language to the benefit of both business owners and public health. It also addresses public health concerns over low-acid home-canned foods that may produce serious illness such as botulism. Our primary goal is to protect the health and safety of North Dakotans and the proposed rules do that.”

The phrase “cottage foods” has become the popular vernacular in recent years for foods made in home kitchens and sold directly to consumers. States and municipalities have been addressing the sale of such foods to ward off potential food safety problems and to protect the rights of people who want to sell them. Some governmental bodies have cited outbreaks of food poisoning related to certain homemade foods.

In Bismark ND, the health council is seeking changes to the North Dakota Cottage Foods Act of 2017 so that it will include specific definitions for some homemade foods. Cottage foods covered by the Act are not inspected by any health or other public officials.

“ ‘Home-canned products’ means high acid or acidified fruit or vegetables where the end-product does not require time and temperature control for safety,” according to the proposed change.

“. . . The following food products are not within the definition of cottage food products as used in chapter 23-09.5-01(1) and therefore not authorized for sale under chapter 23-09.5: Home-canned products, unless the products are high acid or acidified foods that are processed and canned in this state and the pH level is verified by a calibrated pH meter.”

Now that the health council has approved the proposed changes, the rules will be submitted to the North Dakota Legislative Council and are scheduled to be added to the December meeting agenda of the Administrative Rules Committee.

The proposed rules do not affect baked goods, jams, jellies and hundreds of other food and drink products adopted under the original Cottage Foods Act. In addition, the proposed rules define and clarify procedures relating to illness or environmental health investigations.

According to the North Dakota Health Council website, the proposed cottage food rules:

  • Keep the health and safety of consumers as the priority.
  • Do not add regulation to cottage food products.
  • Clarify what is already stated in the current law to the benefit of both public health and business owners.
  • Only affect low-acid home-canned foods such as green beans, Brussels sprouts, peas, asparagus, vegetable soups, etc., but does not affect baked goods, jams, jellies, and hundreds of other food and drink products adopted under the original Cottage Food Act.
  • Defines and clarifies procedures relating to illness or environmental health complaint investigations.

For more information on cottage foods or to read the proposed rules, visit

About botulism poisoning
While a variety of illnesses can result from eating under-processed food, one of the most dangerous is botulism poisoning. Untreated, botulism can paralyze the muscles needed for breathing, resulting in sudden death.

Anyone who has eaten any home-canned foods and developed signs of botulism poisoning should immediately seek medical attention, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“In foodborne botulism, symptoms generally begin 18 to 36 hours after eating contaminated food. However, symptoms can begin as soon as 6 hours after or up to 10 days later,” according to the CDC website.

The symptoms of botulism may include some of all of the following: double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, difficulty breathing, a thick-feeling tongue, dry mouth, and muscle weakness. People with botulism poisoning may not show all of these symptoms at once.

These symptoms result from muscle paralysis caused by the toxin. If untreated, the disease may progress, and symptoms may worsen to cause paralysis of specific muscles, including those used in breathing and those in the arms, legs, and the body from the neck to the pelvis area.

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