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New regulations allow some retail food products to be prepared in personal kitchens

Heike Sellers, The Flour Artisan, can now bake items like these lemon scones from her home.

Heike Sellers, The Flour Artisan, can now bake items like these lemon scones from her home kitchen.

Like many home bakers dreaming of parlaying their talents into a business, Alpharetta resident Heike Sellers was encouraged by friends and family to tie on an apron and get to work.

“For quite a few years friends have been asking me, ‘Where can I buy this?’ ” she said.

But after researching licensing requirements, Sellers arrived at the conclusion formed by many hopeful home bakers before her: “Georgia is not conducive to small business in that way.”

That was before she discovered Georgia’s new cottage food regulations, which took effect in September.

Cottage food regulations allow individuals to prepare non-potentially hazardous foods in domestic kitchens for sale directly to the consumer. This means home bakers and cooks can now prepare products from a specified list, which includes items not requiring refrigeration like breads, cakes, pastries, seasoning mixes, cereals, nuts, vinegars and popcorn.

With the new regulations in place, the Georgia Department of Agriculture no longer requires home cooks preparing these items to have a second domestic kitchen or commercial kitchen space for production. Product labels, however, must contain a statement indicating that the goods have been prepared in a facility not subject to regular food safety inspections.

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said the regulations were developed after extensive research on such guidelines in states across the country. According to Black, the mission was twofold: the department had to “craft regulations to meet the needs of [their] public health responsibility” and to “find ways to help get people in business and help them stay in business.”

While his department was in the research phase, Black was contacted by Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth), who had received a request from constituent and home baker Sara Rylander to consider a cottage food law in Georgia. Rylander was armed with a petition containing over 2,000 signatures, but she said, “It was not a fight. It was not a struggle. The Georgia Department of Agriculture was on board from the get-go.”

Happy Booker Johnson speaks with Macon Farmers Market manager, Happy Wyatt, about selling her product at the market.

Happy Booker Johnson speaks with Macon Farmers Market manager, Happy Wyatt, about selling her product at the market.

In fact, the Department of Agriculture supports the state’s agribusinesses through its Georgia Grown program, which was revamped and relaunched in January. It helps businesses market products produced in Georgia and provides educational programming, like the Georgia Grown Symposium held in Macon earlier this month. The Symposium offered workshops on licensing and inspections, marketing and packaging solutions appropriate for both cottage and commercial businesses.

Having recently discovered the new cottage food regulations, Griffin resident Happy Booker Johnson attended the Symposium to kick-start a business that will generate side income. Johnson, who plans to sell her original fish fry batter, learned that to be licensed, she has to attend a food safety certification course, have her kitchen inspected and her product labeling approved. She also used the opportunity to talk with farmers market managers about selling her batter, tentatively called “Drop, Shake and Sizzle,” since Cottage Food makers can only sell directly to the consumer and not to retailers.

According to Oscar Garrison, Director of the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Division, folks who are eager to get started can find the licensing application online, pay the $100 annual licensing fee and have their kitchen inspected within two weeks.

But it may not be as easy as it sounds. Garrison warns that common mistakes new cottage food businesses make include failing to check with local municipalities about zoning laws and wastewater management concerns.

As it turns out, he’s right. Those in the trenches are finding that although the Department of Agriculture paved the way, not all counties currently have policies in place for granting business licenses to cottage food businesses. In some areas, zoning laws and sewer requirements are prohibitive.

Rylander, the voice of home bakers, is still unable to bake cakes out of her Cobb County residence. Yet, she hopes that after the first of the year, Cobb zoning laws will be reworded to allow her to launch her Totally Sweet Cakes business.

Rylander maintains a Georgia Cottage Food Law Facebook page where she and others communicate and help each other navigate the start-up process. She says she’s found that the “rural counties like Rockdale and Henry are very supportive.”

Sellers, who was finally able to act on the encouragement of friends and family, is an early success story of the new cottage food regulations. Her success in getting fully licensed and approved came as a result of her tenacity in dealing with city and county offices, her phone calls redirected from department to department as officials deciphered which regulations applied to cottage food businesses.

“It took a whole day of calling and talking to everybody from Environmental Compliance, the Public Works superintendent, the Department of Air and Wastewater, and Industrial Monitoring and Licensing,” she said.

“In the beginning when laws come out, let’s just say that things are not so polished.”

Yet she successfully navigated the process. Her business, The Flour Artisan, is open and taking orders.

–by Jenny Turknett, Food and More blog

13 comments Add your comment

Sammy

November 20th, 2012
5:26 am

I want the buttery, non-spicy carrot cake with the marshmallow cream cheese icing please!!!
Someone must remember how to make it. I have not had a slice since I was a kid.

Freedom works

November 20th, 2012
8:13 am

Do you notice how nobody says “go ahead, its a free country” anymore? That’s because it is not.

Freedom works

November 20th, 2012
8:17 am

If you think these regulations are bad, just try buying raw milk. There is a war on fresh, wholesome food being waged by the government on behalf of their “benefactors” in the processed food industry and the mainstream dairy industry. Just as people are finally waking up to realize that the convenience of overprocessed, packaged foods has a horrible price in their health, cancer, etc. the government is waging war to prevent a return to locally-grown, organic, non-GMO, raw, foodstuffs. Its not about left versus right folks, its about the state versus you.

RK

November 20th, 2012
8:52 am

I suppose this is a step in the right direction, but it’s frustrating that so many departments and localities have their hand on something that’s really so simple.

I guess I still can’t sell my homemade cheese. I wish I could get my hands on raw milk.

Adam's McRib

November 20th, 2012
10:21 am

Are both those people in the picture named ‘Happy’?
Where are Sleepy and Grumpy?

Johnny

November 20th, 2012
11:20 am

“…prepared in a facility not subject to regular food safety inspections.”

Um, no thanks. No thanks.

Yeah the big companies could care less about my health, but these kitchen wizards – they could care less plus are ignorant and have no regulation. No way.

No way.

1164mgc

November 20th, 2012
1:10 pm

Yeah, I’m with Johnny. No way do I want to eat food that comes right out of someone’s kitchen unless I know them AND their kitchen. At least the companies are somewhat regulated.

RK

November 20th, 2012
2:09 pm

Those big companies have certainly had their own issues.

Cake Lover

November 20th, 2012
2:24 pm

The wonderful thing about cottage foods is that no one is required to buy them. If you’d rather spend your money on a preservative and chemical-laden ugly cake from your local Wal-Mart, then by all means go right ahead. Better yet, have a twinkie before they’re all gone!
Leave the freshly made cakes, cookies, and breads for those of us that appreciate well-made foods.
This is a GREAT thing for Georgia!

Jadzia

November 21st, 2012
8:14 am

Just want to make it clear that it is Georgia that prevents the sale of raw milk for human consumption. And it is Georgia that over regulates food production including making a traveling slaughterhouse (to get to small producers) illegal in Georgia. It is not the Federal government that is getting in the way. I buy raw “pet” milk from a reputable Atlanta area dairy that delivers to several locations.

Lorenzo

November 21st, 2012
1:16 pm

There’s a reason workers are required to wear hair nets and gloves and use sanitary equipment and packaging in commercial food manufacturing. I’m not sure I trust my Aunt Betty not to have stuck her finger in the cake batter or let the cat jump on the kitchen counter, let alone an unknown person in their unknown kitchen. But I’m all for freedom of choice, and I’m glad the fans of such bake sale goods got what they want.

Freedom works

November 21st, 2012
2:15 pm

Freedom is popular. Best of all, as Cake Lover pointed out, with a free market that is based on purely Voluntary exchanges, not forced or government mandated exchanges, the consumer is in charge and can choose to purchase or not. True democracy in the form of currency – the way the entire world should be run. None of this freedom should exclude anyone from responsiblity for actions that are fraudulent or cause harm – but you don’t need a multi-trillion dollar wasteful government bureaucracy to achieve those ends.

Robert

November 22nd, 2012
6:53 pm

I am constantly amazed by the people that are terrified of food. Do they really think somebody sticking a finger in the cake batter is going to kill them? How the heck did they survive eating their mother’s food. I guess it must of been by some miracle that they got to this point in life. They must have gotten this phobia from seeing people dropping dead everyday by eating something handled by folks not wearing gloves or a hairnet. Good lord. Hunter S. Thompson was right. We are becoming a society of pencil necked geeks.