The ability to produce and sell cottage food in Montana became official as of October 1, when the state adopted its rules for small producers. Cottage food refers to non-hazardous products made in home kitchens and sold directly to consumers, including items like jams, jellies, baked goods, and trail mixes. The adopted rules recognize that these products require minimum regulation from a food-safety perspective and provide an avenue for food entrepreneurs to test the market for their goods.
The Grow Montana Food Policy Coalition, which is housed at and coordinated by NCAT, prioritized the need for a cottage food law to truly expand economic opportunities for small, home-based producers. We have also looked for ways to streamline and improve Montana’s patchwork of confusing and complicated food-safety rules. The passage of House Bill 478 by the 2015 Montana Legislature achieved these two goals. We played a major part in the success of the bill, which placed cottage food into state statute and directed the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) to draft rules to implement it.
After DPHHS published its proposed rules in July 2015 and asked for public comment, we submitted our suggestions for how to improve them. One significant problem we pointed out was that the proposed rules banned cottage food producers from drying and packaging fruit, even though the state statute’s definition of cottage food products includes the practice. Since the Montana Supreme Court has determined the rulemaking process cannot contradict what is contained in statute, we provided DPHHS with these relevant court cases and suggested a potential fix. We also recommended adding clarifying language to and using examples in other parts of the proposed rules so that both cottage food producers and local health departments could easily understand the registration process.
When the final rules were adopted in September 2015, DPHHS had acted upon every request we made. This included adding dried fruit to the list of cottage food products with information about how they would need to be prepared, which was what we recommended. DPHHS also took our advice and clarified language and provided examples when it came to the instructions for the registration and re-registration process for producers.
DPHHS has established a website with information to help cottage food producers understand the new rules. It includes a “Frequently Asked Questions” page and an Operation Guidance and Permit Application packet. The launch of the cottage food industry received coverage by local news stations in Bozeman and Missoula, along with an article in the Missoulian.