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Monday, December 22, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 4/7/2013

COMMENTARY

Class offers food for thought

BY MARY ALICE POWELL

At the food safety-training program sponsored by Michigan State University Extension I learned the ABCs of proper sanitation for the preparation and distribution of cottage foods.

Cottage foods are products that are made in home kitchens and sold at farmers’ markets and other public places such as flea markets.

The popularity of farmers’ markets in Michigan prompted the extension service to present workshops on food safety and innovation counseling as they relate to the state’s 2010 Cottage Food Law.

Unlike the 50 or so other people at the workshop at the Lenawee County Library in Adrian, I have no plans to hit the road with a food product, though I admit that it has crossed my mind. When my dog Digby died I immediately wanted to go into business making heart-shaped Digby dog biscuits with his handsome face on the label and made with balanced nutrition so that dogs could eat healthfully and live to a ripe old age as he did.

I also have toyed with the prospect of putting mother’s corn relish and green tomato mincemeat on the market, and each time I prepare a batch of peach pickles I want to share the old family specialty with the world.

Last week while shopping at Taste of Toledo on Angola Road, I was reminded of the hundreds of Toledoans who followed similar dreams. Several local food producers may have started making a limited quantity in their kitchens until success lured them into a larger venture with increased production and supermarket sales status. Taste of Toledo invites customers to mix and match Toledo-made products that range from buckeye candies to salsa, cookies, mud pies, and pickles.

Jeannie Nichols, MSU Extension health and nutrition educator who works in the Hillsdale office, outlined several guidelines that support the Michigan law. The information is online but the workshops give entrepreneurs a chance to ask questions and there were several at the Adrian meeting.

The Cottage Food Law allows food entrepreneurs to operate small businesses and produce products that are low risk from a food safety standpoint if prepared properly in an unlicensed and uninspected kitchen

“It allows people to test the waters to see if operating a food business and selling direct to consumers is the right fit for them,” Ms. Nichols said. Making food products for profit attracts the unemployed and accounts for the increasing number of cottage food participants.

Under the Michigan law nonpotentially hazardous foods that do not require time and/or temperature control for safety can be produced in a home kitchen for direct sale to customers at farmers’ markets, roadside stands, or other direct markets.

Cottage food products cannot be sold to retail stores, restaurants, over the Internet, by mail order, or to wholesalers, brokers, or other food distributors.

The food preparation must be in the kitchen at the primary residence and not in a rented kitchen or an out building. The ingredients and the finished product must be stored at the same residence.

The list of products that meet Michigan cottage food requirements is lengthy and includes those that we often see at open-air markets. Items, on the “good” list are breads and other baked goods, cooked fruit pies, jams and jellies, dried herbs, dry mixes, popcorn, cotton candy, baked goods that contain alcohol such as bourbon balls, coated and uncoated nuts, and dried pasta made with eggs.

It is mandatory that cottage foods be labeled with more than a creative, clever name.

Because cottage food operators in Michigan are not licensed, labels must include the statement “Made in a home kitchen not inspected by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Development.”

In Michigan, the law limits annual gross sales this year to $20,000. Last year it was $15,000 and in 2017 it will be $25,000.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.

Contact her at: mpowell@theblade.com



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