I’d like to take a different direction for today’s post and talk about something important to us and many others that we know, and in fact, important to many who don’t even know it’s significance to them. Yet.
This year a determined group of folks and a few politicians are making a second attempt to pass a Texas Cottage Food Law.
In Texas, as in 32 other states, it is illegal to produce food from a residential kitchen… this does make some sense, as strict food handling, storage, prep and sanitation issues are important to public health. The issue at hand, however, is regarding “non-potentially hazardous” foods that are at a low risk for spoilage, specifically bakery products and some other foods — jams, jellies, and salsas — that are considered low-risk for spoilage because they are not able to support the growth of potentially harmful organisms and do not require refrigeration.
Stated simply, in Texas, it is illegal for an individual to produce food products for sale in their home kitchen, even if said product is “non-potentially hazardous”. This means that should you have the notion to bake cupcakes in your spare time to make a little extra money, or even start baking at home as the first step toward opening your own bakery one day, Texas says “no”. In order to produce food for sale, you must operate out of a separately maintained kitchen, located elsewhere (or at least completely detached from a residential structure), which must be zoned properly, have it’s own power/gas/electricity, be inspected regularly and be licensed as a commercial kitchen.
Seventeen other states have passed bills to allow home bakers and others to ply their trade. They’re known as the “Cottage Food Laws”, and they allow for production of specific types of foods in a residential kitchen, so long as certain criteria are met. These criteria vary from state to state, but generally require things such as all maintaining a clean and sanitary environment, “employees” acquiring a food handler’s license, at least one “employee” having a food manager’s license, registering and licensing the business, paying the regular spate of fees, reporting income, collecting and paying taxes, getting inspected, etc.
It’s by no means as easy as grandma making a tray of cookies and selling them on the street corner, and it’s not exactly an inexpensive proposition… but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than buying/leasing/renting a commercial kitchen space and purchasing prohibitively expensive equipment to work with. Fees and licensing aside, a home baker can continue using their existing space and equipment, and if they have their sites on a bigger future this is the perfect springboard to get there, with relatively little additional overhead and no need to face the prospect of coming up with a sizable chunk of startup capital and a location. Somehow.
Think of it: A struggling home baker being able to legitimately advertise and sell their wares, being able to sell their tasty treats in coffee shops, restaurants, farmer’s markets and online. All the folks operating as the “worst kept secret” of the food industry can come out into the light and be legit. The fees and taxes collected rolling into the state and federal coffers, bolstering the local economy. A wider variety of tastes and talents available in the local market.
The good folks at texascottagefoodlaw.com (and they’re on on Facebook) are the driving force behind making this change. The bill is being drafted as I write this, and they are asking that all Texans call and write their State Representatives and State Senators and ask them to support this bill — they’re even providing a letter template, the best way to conduct yourself on the call, along with how to find who your local legislators are. I am also asking any Texans reading this post to do the same. I humbly request the community of Texas food bloggers (and readers!) to stand up for your local home producers and spread the word as well.
The sooner we start, the sooner we get noticed, the louder our voice will be when the bill finally comes up for a vote. Don’t dawdle, get going and write and call your legislators now!
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