There are many ways to break the law. Stealing, reckless driving. And of course, baking.
Baking is of course not illegal in and of itself, but when you make food at home and sell it, it can be. That’s what happened to Mark Stambler in Los Angeles, California. Stambler is a bread baking fanatic, sticking to traditional methods of baking loaves of French bread. The ingredients are simple: water, sea salt, wild yeast and organic grains, some of which he even mills himself. And yet after he turned his hobby into a business and started selling to local stores, the health department came knocking on his door and forced him to stop.
But instead of getting angry, he got active, and together with California Assemblyman Mike Gatto drafted the California Homemade Food Act, which passed in summer of 2012 and went into effect in 2013. The act legalized what is known as “cottage food.” Many states have cottage food laws, essentially enabling people to make certain types of food in their home kitchens, and then legally sell them at specified venues, like farmer’s markets.
According to CottageFoods.org, “In 1993, the first federal food code recommended that food made at home should not be sold in a commercial food establishment.” With the rise of the local food movement, however, many states have pushed to put more cottage food laws in place, not just promoting local eating, but small business as well. Baking at home and selling your goods at the local market is a relatively easy way to make money, with much less overhead than having to purchase or rent commercial kitchen space. In California for example, since the passing of the Homemade Food Act, around 1,200 businesses have been created.
But not all states are created equal. Idaho for example has absolutely no cottage food law, Wisconsin doesn’t allow the sale of baked goods (don’t worry, there’s a cookie bill up for discussion), and often what state you’re in will determine exactly what and where you can sell. That being said, nowadays about 40 states have laws that protect making and selling cottage foods, with some pushing to expand the laws even further.
Of course the foods have to be “non-potentially hazardous,” which means most baked goods are fine, but anything that involves meat or seafood is not. If you run a risk of poisoning someone with a food-borne illness, you’re probably not allowed to sell the product.
So is it illegal to sell homemade artisan foods? Depends on where you live, which means before you go launching into the gluten-free, vegan, homemade wedding cake business, check your local laws and regulations.
Photo Credit: jennie-o
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