Homemade goods bound for farmers markets, but sellers must register

DECATUR — A new law will allow some homemade food items to be sold at Illinois farmers markets this season, but those producing the fare must register with their local health departments and meet specific criteria designed to keep consumers safe under the state’s new cottage food law….

DECATUR — A new law will allow some homemade food items to be sold at Illinois farmers markets this season, but those producing the fare must register with their local health departments and meet specific criteria designed to keep consumers safe under the state’s new cottage food law.

The Macon County Health Department recently held an informational meeting for those involved in the local farmers market community. Sue Hemp and Mike Irwin of Decatur is Growing Gardeners, or DIGG, and Máire Foxx, farm coordinator and manager of the farmers market at Richland Community College, attended the meeting, during which environmental health director Kathy Wade explained what is required of cottage food operators who want to sell this summer.

Prior to this year, no foods prepared in home kitchens could be sold at the markets.

These operations can sell specific foods that have been deemed “nonpotentially hazardous,” including baked goods, jams, jellies and preserves, fruit butters and dry herbs, herb blends and tea blends. Even within these various categories, the types of items allowed are very specific, Wade said, as she discussed an informational bulletin from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

For example, 17 fruit jams, jellies and preserves are allowed, while rhubarb, tomato, pepper and watermelon jellies and jams are prohibited. Exceptions for types not specifically listed require testing and documentation by a commercial food laboratory.

Cottage food producers must be present to sell their wares and also must meet certain labeling requirements on all items for sale. Those preparing and selling the foods must be state-certified food service sanitation managers.

Wade said she has received 10 phone calls inquiring about the cottage food operation registration process. For all who apply, she said she will explain thoroughly the requirements of the law to guarantee they have a clear understanding.

Irwin said DIGG hopes to share the information with others and refer potential cottage food vendors to Wade so they can register properly and comply with the law.

For this year, there is no cost to register with the Macon County Health Department as a cottage food operation.

As a farmers market manager, Foxx learned more about her role and responsibility in making sure cottage food vendors are compliant so consumers can have “the best, enjoyable, safe experience.”

As people learn more about the health benefits of fresh foods, Irwin said, “they’re starting to demand more of the locally grown, locally produced, healthier stuff, and this is one way to help push that along.”

Foxx said she’s not sure how many cottage food vendors her market will welcome.

“It’s fluid,” she said of the vendors and items that typically become available throughout the season.

Those present at the meeting said they see new opportunities for sellers and the community growing out of opening the markets to these new vendors.

agetsinger@herald-review.com|421-6968

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