Washington's cottage food law still under construction
Rule-making process will take months, but people can start getting ready
By STEVE BROWN
Washington state's new cottage food law goes into effect July 22, but it be will several more months before the first home-made products can be sold at farmers' markets and farmstands.
The measure will allow residents to sell food prepared in their homes -- rather than in a commercial kitchen -- directly to consumers, said Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, primary sponsor of the bill.
Bakers and other home cooks were previously required to use a commercial kitchen if they planned to sell their products to the public.
Felicia Hill, a stay-at-home mom and owner of FH Cakes, a small baking business in Clark County, was present in early May when Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the bill into law. She realizes there is still much to be done. The Washington State Department of Agriculture was given authority to establish rules, and that process will take some time.
"I don't want to give anybody false hope," Hill said. "It's at least a couple of months before we can say, 'Woohoo, we're in business!'"
Kirk Robinson, assistant director for Food Safety and Consumer Services at WSDA, described the process of implementing new cottage food standards.
"The first step is to bring together an advisory group, which will include people who were active in the legislative debate. We'll need to set out what foods will be allowed, likely requirements, et cetera."
Stakeholder work groups will meet within 30 to 45 days. After this will come the process of rule-making, the finalizing of rules with the stakeholders, then public meetings.
"It will likely be four to six months before final implementation," Robinson said.
The legislation specifies sales directly to consumers, and not over the Internet, by mail-order or outside the state, he said.
Hill said she will be involved, and she hopes to add to the list of products the legislation specified, which were baked goods, jams, jellies, preserves and fruit butters.
"Some people want to make pickles, and I want to fight for those people, too," she said.
While the implementation process proceeds, Hill said, interested people can start getting ready:
* Get a food handler's card.
* Check on county zoning. "Not every county allows you to operate a business out of your home," she said. "State law can't overrule zoning."
* Register the business trade name with the state.
* Get the menu in line. "Criteria for labeling products will become more specific during rule-making."
For her part, Hill said, "I'm on sabbatical, just baking for friends and family. I've got a Facebook page -- 'Washington State Cottage Food' -- which has 40 participants so far. That way I can keep people informed about the law and help them become legal."
The WSDA will coordinate inspections with local health agencies, she said. "I hope to be one of the first inspected, so I can tell others what to expect and help them prepare."
Robinson said Oregon has similar legislation. "It's got 750 folks under that type of license. We could see a thousand within three years. ... This is a win-win for producing and marketing."