Drop the pickle! Food entrepreneurs have a bill to watch in the state legislature
State Senator Wayne Shaw, R-Grove, has seen his Senate Bill 696, also known as the Safe Food Home Manufacturing Act, clear a major hurdle when it passed its first senate vote earlier this week. The bill is designed to allow kitchen entrepreneurs to sell their baked goods, jams, jellies and salsas without subjecting their kitchens to State Health Department inspection while adding guidelines for record-keeping that would assist in solving any public health problems should they arise.
"The goal of the bill is to put more people in business than out," Shaw said.
Shaw's bill allows home cooks who net $50,000 or less yearly to operate without having to abide by the same strict Health Department rules and regulations in place for commercial operations. The previous amount written in a similar bill back in 2013 capped at $20,000. The bill also expands the products that can be sold. The previous bill focused on baked goods while Shaw’s bill includes low ph canned goods like jellies, jams, relishes and salsas.
Shaw said getting the bill ready for a vote has been a little more difficult than anticipated. He's heard concerns from citizens and state officials over certain aspects of the bill.
The bill requires home-cooks who want to sell their good to the public to take a practice designed just for them to address safe food safety. It also requires them to generate labels with batch information for ingredients used for the product. Shaw said the point of the bill was to allow folks to use home-grown ingredients, so the batch-code requirement does not preclude the use of goods from the garden. The bill creates responsibility for staff at Oklahoma State University’s Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center. All labels would have to be submitted to them for approval. The public would have recourse should they get sick from a home-produced product, but it wouldn’t be in court.
"I think we've got the liability figured out," Shaw said.
Liability insurance for cottage industries founded on perishables is available in states where these kinds of transactions are allowed. Shaw didn’t expand on the subject, but the bill still has a ways to go. As written, the bill indicates public complaint is the only way Health Department officials would make their way into a home kitchen. If officials were to find the kitchen in question wasn’t following safe practices, they could halt production until improvements were made and further education was acquired. But no fines of more than $100 could be administered.
Shaw said the initial idea was to have home-cooks attend the Food Safety class offered by the Health Department for commercial cooks, but wanted a simpler course. So, he's currently trying to develop the infrastructure to offer a one-time class for home-cooks that would focus on their needs.
"We still have some things to work out," he said. “But there’s no big rush.”
Shaw initially tagged the bill as an emergency measure but that language has been stricken.
SB 696 passed through a senate vote and has been passed over the House for consideration. Once the House has had its way with the bill it will be run back through initial committees for consideration. The senate would peruse any changes to the bill since it first go-round, vote on it and, if it passes, send it to the governor’s office for final consideration before its enacted into law.