At the end of July, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) published the rules it was considering adopting related to the implementation of the cottage food industry in Montana. DPHHS accepted public comments on the rules through August 27, 2015. The agency will now examine the comments and may make changes to the rules before finalizing them.
The Grow Montana Food Policy Coalition, which is housed at and coordinated by NCAT, has supported creation of the cottage food industry as part of its efforts to streamline and improve the state’s food-safety rules to make them work for Montana’s producers and food entrepreneurs. Grow Montana had a big win during the 2015 Montana Legislature with passage of House Bill 478, which, among other things, allows cottage food production in Montana. This means that small home-based producers can make and sell products such as jams, jellies, baked goods, dry mixes, and other “not potentially hazardous” food products. HB 478 charged DPHHS with drafting rules to ensure cottage food is implemented in a safe way, while making sure the rules are consistent with the legislative intent of the bill.
DPHHS held a public hearing on August 20, 2015, and it accepted written comments through close of business on August 27. Grow Montana submitted comments, and the following were among the issues we addressed:
- The belief that one of the proposed rules violates the intent of HB 478. The proposed rule prohibits cottage food producers from drying and packaging fruit, even though HB 478 included dried fruit in its definition of cottage food products. Grow Montana learned that DPHHS had researched and obtained information about how cottage food producers could make dried fruit safely. Grow Montana recommended that DPHHS redraft the proposed rule to list dried fruit as an approved product as long as the producer meets the needed requirements, which we recommended the agency include in the rules. We believe reworking this portion of the rules accomplishes a few goals. First, it will clearly state that dried fruit can be a cottage food product, which matches the language passed in HB 478. Second, by putting the cooking and packaging requirements into the rules, public health will be protected. Third, by listing the requirements, both producers and local county health departments will know exactly what needs to be done to guarantee the product is safe. The last point addresses one of the purposes for HB 478, which was to cut down on the subjectivity of regulations that led to unequal enforcement from county to county.
- Grow Montana asked DPHHS to clarify some of the language regarding the registration process for cottage food producers. We suggested that using some examples could help both producers and county health departments easily understand when it was necessary for a cottage food producer to re-register with the county. Similarly, Grow Montana asked DPHHS to make it clear how often water testing for producers using wells would need to be done.