Delaware looks to lessen limits on homemade food items

DOVER — People selling homemade foods — baked goods, jams, candies — are a common sight at farmers’ markets. But in Delaware, restrictions greatly limit who can sell what.

While perhaps no one would argue guidelines are totally unnecessary, many people acknowledge that too many rules can needlessly limit business growth at times.

The state is looking to lighten its restrictions on home-baked goods to allow amateur chefs and bakers to play a greater role in sales.

The cottage food industry, as it’s known, has grown in many places around the country, but Delaware currently restricts participation to a small subset. The On-farm Home Food Processing Program allows individuals who live on a farm to bake food items in their kitchen and sell them directly to customers at public gatherings like craft fairs. Anyone else wanting to sell homemade goods for a profit is out of luck.

The program is run by the Department of Agriculture, but the Department of Health and Social Services has proposed new regulations that would allow non-farm owners to

Under a proposal, individuals who want to make foods to sell at public events would have to undergo some training, proving they are aware of basic safety standards and can operate any necessary equipment. (Delaware State News file photo)

Under a proposal, individuals who want to make foods to sell at public events would have to undergo some training, proving they are aware of basic safety standards and can operate any necessary equipment. (Delaware State News file photo)

make and sell certain types of foods.

Jamie Mack, a spokesman for the Division of Public Health within DHSS, said the agency has been working on the rules for at least a year based on interest received from would-be participants.

Only certain types of products, such as jellies, pastries and chocolates would be allowed, although Mr. Mack said the division plans to deal with questions about eligible items on a case-by-case basis.

“We’re keeping the language a bit general,” he said.

Foods that must be stored at certain temperatures or expire quickly would not be allowed.

Individuals who want to make foods to sell at public events would have to undergo some training, proving they are aware of basic safety standards and can operate any necessary equipment.

Largely due to safety concerns, the products would have to be bought directly by customers, meaning they cannot be sold to retail stores or restaurants. Limiting where the items can be peddled would enable the division to trace back the source if anyone becomes sick from a product.

Although the current on-farm program, which would likely be folded into the Division of Public Health under the new proposal, only has about 10 participants, officials think the added flexibility could aid some small businesses or even create a niche market.

Coincidentally, as part of a list of proposals to fight poverty and grow the economy, the Senate Republican caucus suggested an expansion of the cottage food industry in March. Legislation could loosen or alter some regulations and help small businesses, senators said.

Mr. Mack said the division had already been working on revising the guidelines based on laws in other states, and officials reached out to inform lawmakers.

The proposed registrations would require strict labeling of food products, as well as mandating what safety guidelines kitchens must meet.

While there is uncertainty regarding how many people might take part, some people attempted to petition lawmakers in 2013 to allow the sale of home-baked goods.

A public hearing will be held on the regulations May 25 at 10 at the Jesse Cooper Building in Dover.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.