Many people who sell homemade foods directly to others — be it cupcakes, pickles, prepared whole dinners or even pet treats — do so under the radar of the health department. In many states, entrepreneurs who want to build a small food business and run that business out of their home kitchens are subject to the same regulations as commercial kitchens. However, many can't meet those regulations, so they don't bother to register their businesses — and they may never get inspected.
But is an inspection necessary for those who sell baked goods or homemade lasagnas in their local area? Some states are beginning to think such rules aren't necessary, or at least the rules don't need to be identical to those set for commercial kitchens, according to Reason.com.
Montana's Local Food Choice Act would exempt "certain food producers from food licensure, permitting, certification, packaging, labeling and inspection regulations" in addition to other standards and requirements. It would apply to those who sell food directly from their kitchens to consumers in the state of Montana; it wouldn't apply to those who sell their goods to restaurants or grocers.
California wants to loosen restrictions on cottage industry chefs and bakers, too. There would still be some regulations, but those with a home-based food business who had previously been allowed to sell only "non-potentially hazardous" foods like homemade baked goods, jams and mixed nuts would also be allowed to sell "hot, prepared foods directly to customers," that is if the Homemade Food Operations Act is passed, explains Reason.com.
But is it safe, and smart?
This setting free of the local food economy helps people start home-based businesses without being bogged down by paperwork, regulations and fees — but not everyone agrees.
The biggest argument for regulations and licensing is the health of those who eat the foods prepared in home kitchens. With no regulations or inspections, that's the biggest worry. What about the cleanliness of those kitchens, the proper cleansing of utensils, cutting boards that come in contact with raw meat, or even the use of hair nets? Without a government entity checking these things, foodborne illness will run rampant, right?
Not necessarily. The Food Freedom Act, which passed in Wyoming in 2015, was created to allow the sale and consumption of homemade food. Since then, Wyoming's cottage industry has exploded, food options have expanded, and there hasn't been a single foodborne illness outbreak connected to those covered by the new law, according to Wyoming state Rep. Lindholm, who sponsored the Food Freedom Act.
Another common question is about fairness. In 2013, Nevada created a cottage industry license, and while about 250 licenses have been issued so far, there are still hundreds of people selling their goods without the proper credentials, according to Review Journal. Those who go through the proper path to licensing say this imbalance takes business away from the very people who went through the proper channels. Some take it further and see it as cheating the government out of licensing revenue.
So should more states set their local food economies free? If the success in Wyoming can be replicated in other states, maybe more home-based industries can flourish — all while keeping the public safe.