Apr 26, 2015

Cottage Industry Food Laws In Hawaii

Cottage Industry Food Laws (sometimes referred to as Home-Food Processing Rules, Cottage Food Rules and Baker’s Bills) govern food preparation businesses that are operated from the home. Cottage Food laws allow a person to legally bake and prepare non-potentially hazardous foods from their personal kitchens and sell them on a small scale, generally directly to consumers, farmers markets and a few states are even allowing sales to restaurants and grocery stores. So Far the Cottage Food Laws have been approved in 31 states, but not in Hawaii. Hawaii has "pending legislation", and has had for two years now (click here to view this pending legislation). I wonder how long "pending" is?

Moloka'i Saturday Farmers Market
Click on photo to view larger.
Farmers markets are extremely popular in this country, and in the state of Hawaii, because people find local products at bargain prices. Just visit Molokai's farmers market on any Saturday morning, and you'll see people trying to make ends meet by selling their own cottage industry food products, like spices, baked goods, jellies and jams, pickled mango, or chili pepper water. Also local fishermen selling dried fish out of the back of their pick-up trucks on main street, fish like akule, and ahi. Currently in Hawaii, none of these products can be legally sold unless they were processed in a commercial kitchen, not in someones home. 

The state Department of Health (DOH) in Hawaii regulates the permitting of the sales of these items, which it considers homemade non-potentially hazardous foods. Under DOH rules, the food makers can sell their products only directly to consumers and not to other food establishments such as stores or restaurants. These sales are only authorized for 20 days within any 120-day period per temporary food establishment location, thereby forcing the food seller to have to re-apply for the permit multiple times per year. These products also have to be correctly labeled based on the State of Hawaii Department of Health food labeling laws, (click here to view).

As a chef, I understand that the state Department of Health is just trying to protect the public from getting sick from food that may be unsafe to eat, because the people who made it may not know anything about food safety. I'm currently in the process of starting a new food business here on Moloka'i and would like to produce my food products out of my home, which is what the cottage industry law is all about. Unfortunately, every time I want to make more of my product, I have to rent an expensive commercial kitchen, plus get a 20 day permit from the state Department of Health in order to sell it. All of this will make my product too expensive to sell, and too much trouble to make.

This Cottage Industry Food bill is supported by the Hawaii Farm Bureau, The Kohala Center, Local Food Coalition, Sustainable Economies Law Center, Counter Culture Food & Ferment, Tasting Kaua‘i, Kolo Kai Organic Farm, and Steelgrass Farm, but the Department of Health opposes it. 

The state of Hawaii should be going out of their way to make the process of starting a new business as easy as possible. This will generate much needed new jobs and tax revenue. Instead the state of Hawaii is not working with the people that it is supposed to serve, and is showing us how free enterprise is being stifled. Hawaii needs a law passed similar to California's law, which went into effect on January 1, 2013, a law that is working without any problems. 

A true "grassroots movement" isn't organized by political forces - instead, a "grassroots movement" springs up spontaneously due to some issue, like the Hawaii Cottage Industry Food Law, that a state feels needs to be passed. Is this a grassroots movement? You bet it is! Come on Hawaii legislature, get it together, two years is long enough!

1/14/2019 Update: Four years after I wrote this story, nothing has changed in Hawaii. Out of desperation, I see more and more local people showing up at our Molokai Farmers Market selling homemade, unregulated food products.

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