From left to right:  Jim Murphy, Montana DPHHS; Nancy Matheson, NCAT Consultant; Joyce Previte, Owner of Grandma Hoot Products; Jan Tusick, Grow Montana Steering Committee Member; Rep. Kathleen Williams, sponsor of HB 478.

Some of HB 478’s supporters (from left to right): Jim Murphy, Montana DPHHS; Nancy Matheson, NCAT Consultant; Joyce Previte, Owner of Grandma Hoot Products; Jan Tusick, Grow Montana Steering Committee Member; Rep. Kathleen Williams, sponsor of HB 478.

With one local producer calling it a gift from heaven, the bill to establish cottage food in Montana is finding plenty of support at the Capitol in Helena. House Bill 478 culminates two years of work by the Grow Montana Food Policy Coalition, which wants to expand economic opportunities for home-based food businesses and entrepreneurs.

At its hearing before the House Agriculture Committee, HB 478 found producers, public health officers, and state agencies testifying in favor of it, and the bill drew no opponents. The committee sent HB 478 to the full House of Representatives by a 21-1 vote. A vote by the Montana House is expected when the legislature reconvenes following its transmittal break.

The Grow Montana Food Policy Coalition, which is housed at and coordinated by NCAT, started examining the need for a cottage-food law during the 2013 legislative session and continued to work on the issue during the interim study mandated by House Bill 630. The result of the work is HB 478, which creates standards for cottage food and cleans up sections of current code that have led to confusion and uneven enforcement. The bill ensures safety with clear regulation, while also establishing the basis for cottage food in Montana.

The products considered cottage food under HB 478 are low-risk and non-potentially hazardous. They include such items as baked goods, jams and jellies, dried fruit and dry mixes, granolas, and the like. They require minimum regulation, which is accomplished by HB 478. The bill allows cottage-food products to be made in relatively small quantities in a home kitchen and sold directly by the producer to consumers in Montana.

“Cottage-food businesses are our grassroots food entrepreneurs,” Jan Tusick, a Grow Montana steering committee member, told the House Agriculture Committee. She also called HB 478 “a common-sense bill.”

Tusick’s comments get to the heart of HB 478, which will be an important tool for Montana’s food entrepreneurs. They will benefit by being able to test their business ideas prior to making large investments. Grow Montana believes the bill will spur growth in Montana’s increasingly important food manufacturing sector, which currently ranks third in manufacturing employment in Montana. Consumers also win by having increased access to a variety of locally produced foods.

HB 478 also addresses other areas of Montana’s retail food laws. It decreases the red tape for mobile and temporary food stands by creating standard regulations that won’t change from county to county. Additionally, food manufacturers will no longer need a temporary food permit to offer samples at markets and trade shows. The bill also establishes reciprocal agreements between health departments and tribal governments.