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Legislators look at removing cap from cottage food sales





By STEVE BROWN



Capital Press



OLYMPIA -- Felicia Hill has made three notable trips to the Capitol.



First, she came to urge legislators to permit home cooks to sell products made in their own kitchens.



Later she received the first state-issued cottage food permit from the Washington State Department of Agriculture Director Dan Newhouse.



Hill returned on Jan. 31 with a new request, that she and other home cooks be allowed to make a living wage. House Bill 1135, with bipartisan sponsorship, would remove the $15,000 limit on gross annual sales, which was part of the original legislation.



She told the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee that 33 states now have cottage food laws and three more are pending; 21 of them don't have a limit on sales.



"The $15,000 cap doesn't provide a livable wage," she said. Even a minimum wage job earns more, she said.



However, she said she thought a $50,000 cap could be considered. "Beyond that, it does need to go into a commercial setting."



Another cottage food operator, Wendy Kingsley, said she makes wedding cakes. For the average wedding of 150 people, a cake will cost $500. That means that after she has sold 30 cakes, she must stop.



Though prime sponsor Rep. Jason Overstreet, R-Lynden, said all original safety and inspection requirements would remain in place, spokesmen for state agencies voiced concern about the potential for foodborne illnesses.



WSDA's Kirk Robinson said he was concerned about the large volume of low-value products that would be allowed with no threshold. Also, he said, removing the cap would impact food processors who have made sizable investments in equipment for commercial kitchens.



Nancy Napolilli, from the state Department of Health, said home kitchens are not like commercial kitchens. They are often frequented by family members and pets, sources of possible contamination.



When asked about the risk for more potential for sanitation breakdown, she said that is an assumption and that there is no data.



Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, wondered whether the $15,000 limit means less to spend on equipment that would actually decrease the risk of contamination.



The committee scheduled a Feb. 7 vote whether to pass the bill along.



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