Food regs could take bite out of hobbies, income

Rules would affect food made in homes then sold, given away

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Jeanie Pena bakes pineapple upside-down cupcakes in her Post Falls home Friday. Pena discovered her new baking hobby and became involved with selling her goods at the Post Falls Senior Center, local craft fairs and coffee shops.

COEUR d'ALENE - Regulating the cottage food industry would most likely put an end to Jeanie Pena's hobby business.

While the money is nice, Pena doesn't rely on the income to make a living, but rather to keep her busy after back surgery removed her from the workforce.

"I had to kind of retire after back surgeries because my doctor said I couldn't work anymore," she said. "After working for 40 years, it's hard to do nothing. I was bored after three months of sitting around watching TV."

Her boredom led her to take a couple of basic baking courses in Seattle, and once she started practicing, her hobby business just took on a life of its own.

"I got to a point where I was baking a lot and giving a lot of it away," she said. "Then it got to a point where my neighbors said 'Stop! You're making us fat.'"

When Pena started posting pictures on social media sites, people began requesting orders. Pena was soon recouping some of the costs associated with her newfound hobby.

But that could change if the state decides to regulate cottage food production next year.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare will host a number of public meetings, starting next week in Coeur d'Alene, to gather public input on whether cottage foods should be regulated.

Cottage foods are not "time/temperature controlled for safety" foods. They include things like breads, cakes, cookies, fruit jams and jellies, honey, candy, fruit pies, dried fruits, etc.

There is no legal definition of cottage foods in Idaho's rules or codes. The meetings will help determine if there should be a definition added to Idaho's food code.

"They are basically foods that are prepared in someone's home kitchen that are either sold or given away," said Patrick Guzzle, Idaho's food protection program manager, adding that it is typically the stuff you find at a farmers market.

The state is also gathering input on proposed updates to the state's entire food code to bring it in line with relatively new U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines.

The code changes will include updates in definitions and terminology, but they may also require food managers to be certified by the year 2018.

Other new rules could include how employers deal with and report employee illnesses, and how food is to be safely handled and stored.

Guzzle said the goal is to gather input on the new regulations from all over the state and to determine if there is a public desire to define and regulate the cottage foods.

The first meeting will be Monday in the Hayden Room of the Best Western Plus Coeur d'Alene Inn. The department will be gathering information on the cottage foods issue. The same three-hour public meeting will be offered at three separate times: 8 a.m., noon and 4 p.m.

On Tuesday, at the same location, there will be two three-hour meetings to discuss the proposed changes to Idaho's food code. They will be held at 8 and 11:30 a.m.

Input from those meetings and others throughout the state will be considered in the drafting of the final proposal, which will be published on Sept. 2 in the Idaho Administrative Bulletin.

Public hearings will be held on the final proposal from Sept. 9 to Sept. 18. The Health and Welfare board will hear the proposal in November to decide if it will pursue legislative action to update the code, and regulate cottage foods.

Pena said she hopes it decides against any regulation because if she is forced to rent a commercial kitchen to make her food, the cost would destroy her business.

"I wouldn't be able to do this anymore," she said. "I would hate to see them regulate this because so many older folks really enjoy doing this."

Cottage Food Meetings

Monday, April 27

Best Western Plus - Coeur d'Alene Inn, Hayden Room

506 Appleway Ave., Coeur d'Alene

Meeting 1: 8 a.m. - 11 a.m.

Meeting 2: Noon - 3 p.m.

Meeting 3: 4 p.m. - 7 p.m.

Food Code Meetings

Tuesday, April 28

Best Western Plus - Coeur d'Alene Inn, Hayden Room

506 Appleway Ave., Coeur d'Alene

Meeting 1: 8 a.m. - 11 a.m.

Meeting 2: 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.

For information or questions, contact Patrick Guzzle at (208) 334-5936.

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