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Checking in with the cottage foodies

Recall again that last year home bakers were able to get a law passed that allowed them to legally sell their products in the state – see here for all the background. After the law was passed there was another uproar as the Texas Department of State Health Services proposed regulations for home bakers that they thought were excessive and onerous. I don’t recall coming across any news about how that turned out, but this Statesman feature story provides an update.

When the law passed in May 2011, home bakers rejoiced, but their elation was short-lived. Shortly after the law went into effect in September, the Department of State Health Services, which was tasked with drawing up specific labeling requirements for the new cottage bakers, released rules that had many home bakers hotter than their ovens.

Among other recommendations, the health services department said that home bakers would have to include a full list of ingredients by weight with every cake, cookie or brownie.

“I was nervous about the proposed rules because they were absolutely ridiculous,” said Beth Reyburn, owner of Never Enough Pie, an Austin-based home bakery that offers, among other things, Pie of the Month subscriptions. “Requiring a list of every single ingredient by weight is essentially giving away the recipe. That’s my livelihood.”

Even storefront bakeries aren’t required to list ingredients by weight, home bakers said, and besides, have you ever tried to weigh a multi-tiered wedding cake?

The law contains a lot of common-sense provisions, home bakers said. It requires that the sale of baked goods, jams, jellies and herb mixes take place in the home of the cottage food operator. It allows the customers to self-inspect the kitchen, meet the producer and make sure conditions meet their approval. Cottage food operators can’t sell over the Internet. They also can’t sell highly perishable goods, such as cheesecakes or anything with meat in it. Cottage food producers can’t resell through stores or restaurants, and they can’t sell at farmers markets.

But those labeling rules caused more than a few home bakers to rethink their plans to sell cookies on the side.

[…]

Just a few weeks ago, the state health services department backed off the proposed labeling plan. Cottage food operators will have to list the name of their business, address, any allergens like milk or nuts, and a statement that the product was made in a kitchen that was not inspected by the health department.

Home bakers are breathing a sigh of relief.

Much more reasonable. You can see the current draft here. According to the story, this has enabled the home bakers to get up and running, which is good news. The bad news is that there is yet another obstacle to overcome, at least for some of them.

Recently, [Kelley] Masters and other cottage food operators have been facing down local government authorities over zoning issues. For example, Frisco passed zoning rules before the cottage food law went into effect that ban bakers from selling out of their homes, which the state law requires that they do. Frisco is the only city to specifically ban cottage food operators, [Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance founder Judith] McGeary said.

The only gluten-free baker for 30 miles, Gluten Free Medley, might have to shut down while city officials mull what to do. There are no provisions in the state law that prevent local entities from using zoning rules to shut down cottage food producers.

The showdown between home bakers and zoning rules will likely have to be settled by the state legislature, said McGeary, who testified before state lawmakers last month about increasing access to healthy foods and argued that cottage food operators are one way to do that.

You can see McGeary’s testimony here; it mostly has to do with agriculture but on page 4 she references cottage foods and zoning laws. As you know, I’m not a reflexively anti-regulation person, but I firmly believe regulations must be fair and reasonable, and I have a lot of sympathy for small operators who often don’t get the kind of considerations that big ones do. As is often the case with new legislation, some tweaking will be needed to account for this situation.

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