Writing in Forbes recently, Nick Sibilia, with the public interest law firm Institute forJustice, was positively giddy about the Food Freedom movement.
“Almost four years after the nation’s first ‘food freedom law was enacted, hundreds of new local businesses have sprouted across three states, and without a single outbreak of foodborne illness,” Sibilia wrote. “Completely exempt from any licensing, permitting, or inspection requirements, residents operating under their state’s food freedom act can create and sell almost any homemade dish imaginable, except those that contain meat.”
Wyoming was first to adopt a “food freedom” law in 2017, and North Dakota and Utah followed suit in short order. These three states have created new opportunities for both aspiring entrepreneurs as well as existing farmers and ranchers, Sibilia wrote.
Food Freedom as a route to economic prosperity that does not endanger food safety is a notion that has captured attention in state legislatures across the country. But it isn’t very easy.
Take commercial kitchens. They can cost more than a new house. In Washington State, some lawmakers are proposing a new concept — microenterprise home kitchens. The Washington House of Representatives Local Government Committee today is holding a public hearing that will take testimony on House Bill (HB) 2777, authorizing and permitting microenterprise home kitchens.
The bill does not do the “full Wyoming.” The 12-page bill requires registration, inspections, and licensing for microenterprise home kitchens. And it directs the state Board of Health to promulgate rules.
But the legislation also exempts microenterprise home kitchens from the Evergreen State’s food service code. And food preparation in home kitchens cannot involve processes that require a hazard analysis critical control plan or involve “the production, service or sale of raw milk or the service or sale of raw oysters.”
The microenterprise home kitchens won’t be able to make more than 30 meals per day and no more than 150 individual meals per week. Only direct sales, not indirect, to customers, are permitted. Deliveries outside Washington State are prohibited, and no third-party deliveries are allowed.
Inspections, addressing sanitation of the facility, equipment, and utensils, are part of the permitting process. Clean water sources and wastewater disposal are also part of the statutory requirements along with the handwashing facilities.
And while it might be a home kitchen, “persons unnecessary” to operations are not allowed in areas of food preparation, food storage, or warehousing areas. Consumer access is also limited.
Home kitchens must obtain permits from a local health board, which may require renewals on an annual basis. The home kitchen must disclose the food types and products it handles. Plans with days and times the home kitchen will be operating must be on file with the local health board.
Infants, small children, and pets are not permitted in the microenterprise home kitchen during the preparation, packaging, or handling of any food products.
HB 2777 is likely being watched beyond Washington state because of its promise to open commercial opportunities at a lower entry cost. Sibilia points to one study by the Institute for Justice, which surveyed 775 cottage food producers in 22 states, finding that half were funded with just $500 or less in startup capital.
A small commercial kitchen can easily cost $100,000 and larger units go up rapidly from there.
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