In Our View: Profits in the Kitchen

State finalizing rules for allowing home-baking businesses to thrive

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Technically, it's called the Cottage Food Act of Washington. But we wouldn't blame one Hazel Dell woman for proudly calling it Felicia's Law.The state Department of Agriculture is finalizing plans for enacting the bill that legalizes the sale of low-risk foods made in the home. More than 1,000 applicants are expected as word spreads that home-based entrepreneurs will enter a whole new world of cooking for profit.

Felicia Hill, who wants to turn her home-baked cakes operation into an occupation, took on a resident-activist role and helped usher the bill through near-unanimous approval in the Legislature. The Hazel Dell woman testified before legislators and convinced them -- including bill sponsor Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island -- to raise the annual gross-sales cap to $15,000 instead of $5,000. Later, Hill stood beside Gov. Chris Gregoire at the bill-signing ceremony.

The product of Hill's and Rockefeller's efforts is expected to take effect later this summer, and already the popularity of the act is growing. "The interest in this new license has been astounding," said Kirk Robinson of the WSDA. "Working with our applicants, we've developed a common-sense approach in helping these new home-based food businesses open their doors, while protecting the public from food-borne illness."

More than 250 home-based businesses have shown an interest in applying for a Cottage Foods license, which also requires a food-worker card. Oregon has about 800 cottage-food operations under a similar law.

The WSDA recently closed public comment on a draft rule that will stipulate which foods may be produced, and which licenses and inspections are required, plus labeling requirements. Although the plan is not final, here are a few expected guidelines:

Products allowed for sale under the Cottage Food Act likely will be breads, cakes, cookies, granola, nuts, jams and jellies and several other low-risk products. Every recipe will have to include a cooking step to prevent the spread of food-borne illness or the product must be made from shelf-stable ingredients.

Prohibited products will include meat jerkies, poultry, seafood, canned or processed fruits and vegetables, fresh juices, pickles, dairy products and other higher-risk foods.

As mentioned, the annual gross-sales cap will be $15,000 annually, and only direct sales to consumers will be allowed; mail order and Internet sales will not be permitted.

Annual inspections by the WSDA will be required. Participating homes that do not have access to public water supplies will have to test water for bacterial contamination.

WSDA estimates the cost of meeting all of the requirements might be $230 to $290 per year. Compare that with what the previous laws governing people who wanted to sell home-baked goods required: use of a commercial kitchen and total costs to start such a business of upward of $50,000.

These days, with so many people searching for ways to survive the economic crisis, it's good to see the home kitchen presented as a job site. And it's good to see consumers offered more options. "I was never a political person before," Hill said earlier this year. "I learned it's true, that one person can make a difference. I did. I changed the law."

Happy cooking to all who benefit from the Cottage Food Act. For more information, visit http://www.agr.wa.gov and click on "Food."