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Though it opened three years ago, something has always been missing from the Melting Pot Market in Granite City….

Though it opened three years ago, something has always been missing from the Melting Pot Market in Granite City.

“Jams, jellies, pies, cookies, breads,” rattled off Brenda Whitaker, the market master, as she excitedly explained new products able to be sold at the market, and farmers markets across the state, thanks to the Cottage Food Law that went into effect this year. The law allows non-potentially hazardous foods, like apple pie, dried oregano or peach preserves, to be produced in a home kitchen and sold at open-air farmers markets like the Melting Pot Market and Edwardsville’s Land of Goshen Community Market. Until this year, that was illegal in Illinois.

About five years ago, the state department of health clarified that it was illegal to sell home produced goods at farmers markets because home baking was not compliant with state standards for food safety and handling.

Crusty breads and fruit butters were removed from farmers markets, unless they were produced in a state-inspected commercial kitchen.

“We’ve had a number of people over the years that were not allowed to continue participating because of health department actions, people who have switched to health inspected kitchen who will probably switch back to cottage food,” said Sherry Chase, market master Goshen Community Market, which opens May 12.

The cost to build or rent a commercial kitchen is out of the question for cottage food producers, who are often home cooks looking to make a little extra cash or farmers trying to supplement their income during the off-season.

The Cottage Food Law makes it easier and cheaper to sell homemade foods at farmers markets. Cottage Food producers must register with their county health department, which costs $50, and pass a 15-hour food sanitation course, also at a cost. But that’s far cheaper than renting or building a commercial kitchen, which costs tens of thousands of dollars. The Cottage Food bill was drafted with the goal of creating scale-appropriate regulations to encourage entrepreneurship, said Wes King, policy coordinator for the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, a nonprofit organization that promotes local food systems and sustainability.

“Ideally we’d hope to see the baker who got a great recipe for a baked good testing it out and being so successful using the Cottage Food Law they will want to expand,” King said. “It creates an opportunity for entrepreneurs.”

For 222 Artisan Bakery in Edwardsville that was the case, said Chase.

“They started selling coffee at the market and that evolved into a storefront and bakery,” she said. “Cottage foods allow you to experiment and test products, talk to customers directly, and develop a business plan.”

Word of the law is slowly spreading in Madison County. Whitaker said 15 people have contacted her about becoming cottage food vendors. Some producers have expressed reservations, Chase said, because of a section on the Madison County Health Department’s registration application states the county can investigate a home kitchen “in the event of a consumer complain or food-borne illness outbreak.”

“They understand the law says the health department is required to inspect,” Chase said. “Their concern is about how much latitude is given to that inspection. It feels like an invasion of privacy.”

“We will not be inspecting the cottage food vendors. Only if it comes to our attention that someone is violating,” said Mary Cooper, Madison County Health Department environmental health services manager. She added that inspections could come in the form of random compliance checks at markets.

There are strict regulations on what cottage food producers can sell: jams, jellies and preserves; fruit butters; breads, cookies, cakes, pastries and high-acid fruit pies; and dried herbs and teas. Products with pumpkin, banana and dairy are among those prohibited for sale. Additionally, all cottage foods have to sport a label with several requirements including the statement “This product was produced in a home kitchen not subject to public health inspection that may also process common food allergens.”

The required food sanitation course covers everything from cross contamination to microbiology.

“This is the same class that the restaurants, schools, hospitals and delivery men in the state of Illinois have to take,” Cooper said. She said she thinks the class is comprehensive enough to ensure cottage food producers keep a sanitary environment and make safe food.

Contact reporter Sarah Baraba at 618-344-0264, ext. 133

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