MACO Food regulations

Jessica Speaker, assistant commissioner for health in Baltimore City, presents on the updates on excluded organization regulations at the Maryland Association of Counties conference last Friday.

Home businesses, certain organizations can expand services beginning Oct. 1

(Aug. 23, 2019) Certain organizations can serve food for 30 consecutive days and home businesses can sell cottage food products to retail food services starting Oct. 1.

Jessica Speaker, assistant commissioner for health in Baltimore City, and Patricia Vauls, chief Office for Food Safety, explained two bills that detail these changes at the “Delicious or Deadly” discussion at the Maryland Association of Counties conference last Friday.

Speaker said certain associations and groups qualify as “excluded organizations,” which are nonprofit fraternal, civic, war veteran, religious or charitable organizations that don’t serve food to public more than four days a week, with an exception once a year. Currently, these organizations can serve food to the public for 14 consecutive days. The new regulation will increase to 30 consecutive days.

According to Speaker, the upside of the updated regulation is that excluded organizations can host longer events and have a greater participation by members — they can cook in their private kitchens and bring that food to an event. The downside, she said, should be obvious: potentially hazardous foods can be cooked in unregulated, private kitchens, thus increasing the risk for food borne illnesses. 

Speaker said someone might cook food in the home kitchen in less than idea circumstances, bring it to a church function and cause illness. She added that there are many unknown factors in private kitchens, particularly animals, children, vermin/pesticides, temperature control, general sanitation and personal hygiene.

Speaker said county regulators face two challenges: community food safety education and trace-backs. Since excluded organization members can cook in their private kitchens, it will be more difficult to trace the cause of a food-borne illness than it would be in a regulated commercial kitchen.

To alleviate these challenges, a new proposed state regulation would require an excluded organization to provide written notice to departments stating the date on which food will be prepared, methods of storing and serving and procedures taken to ensure food safety. Stuart White, who supervises the Worcester County food inspection program, suggested that those cooking for events in their private kitchens take a food safety course.

“That would cover all the basic food safety and food handling information as far as taking and maintaining proper temperatures and a sanitary atmosphere,” White said. 

Temporary food service facilities will also extend their allowable continuous operation from 14 days to 30. These facilities are typically fairs, carnivals, public exhibition, construction sites, recreational events and fundraising events.

Vauls spoke about the changes regarding selling cottage food products. These are potentially non-hazardous products such as jams, jellies, preserves, fruit butters, hard candy and coffee beans. Cottage food products can be made at a home-based business without a license.

As the current regulation stands, a home business may only sell cottage food products in state, at a farmer’s market, public event, personal delivery, mail and from consumer to resident. They cannot sell out of state, to a retail food service or via internet.

The new regulation will allow a home-based business to sell cottage food products to a retail food service, such as a grocery store, convenience store, retail market, retail bakery or food cooperative. It is not a restaurant, coffee shop, cafeteria or mobile seller.

Vauls said that this update will expand economic opportunities for small home businesses selling cottage food products. However, there are requirements if a business chooses to sell to a retail food service.

It must create a label that details where it was made, what it may contain and the fact that it was not produced in food service facility. The label must also list a phone number and email of cottage food business and the date the product was made. These precautions will ensure that if there is a problem,  it’s easy to trace the possible source.

White said that it’s difficult to predict any impact on the county since cottage food businesses are unlicensed. He advised that consumers who buy these products be aware that they are made in an unlicensed facility.

The cottage food owner must also submit documentation of passing a food safety course, which must be renewed every three years. It must submit copies of labels for approval and then wait until the Maryland Department of Health gives approval to begin selling to a retail food market.

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