Deborah Aylward’s View from Concord — February

By Deborah Aylward

On the Homemade Food Front, HB 1565 w/A, sponsored by Representative Matt Coulon, was recently passed by a full House vote. Fondly described as the “pickle bill,” the amendment to RSA 143-A Food Service Licensure allows for the production of acidified canned foods (e.g., pickles, relish) in residential kitchens without licensure, which, when signed into law, will save producers from having to render a $145 licensing fee. This will be a huge win for anyone wishing to derive income while working at home!

However, when it comes to jams and jellies made from home, DHHS wants producers to remember: “The proposed legislation in HB 1565 does not impact jams and jellies which are currently allowed in a homestead food operation. There is a requirement in rule He-P 2300, The New Hampshire Rules for the Sanitary Production and Distribution of Food, for those nonexempt homestead operations producing jams or jellies that are not using a recipe from the National Center for Food Preservation to have a process review conducted per He-P 2311.05  Process Review Required.”

Unfortunately, the cost of process review from the University of Maine, a food processing authority, for example, costs $140 — per recipe! I believe this cost is a barrier to entering into or remaining in the industry, and so far, no data is forthcoming from the U. of Maine that shows any of the 135 New Hampshire entries failed the review over a past two-year period. Meanwhile, research shows that jams and jellies made at home in other states are inherently safe.

Sponsoring HB 1685, the bill sought to further loosen the reins on the homemade food industry and was met with serious bipartisan enthusiasm by 18 members of the E&A Committee who voted to send the bill to Interim Study. The committee will work to allow the production of potentially hazardous foods (e.g., refrigerated products) likely with a type of food safety training and certification.

Currently, the law delineates four authorized places from where shelf-stable foods can be sold: from the residence, a farm stand, farmers markets, and retail food stores. Feeling that this language may deter “letter of the law” type persons from retailing their goods at other than these four places, and asking if these goods can be sold at a wide variety of other places, after consulting with department legal counsel, DHHS’s official response was:

“While RSA 143-A:12 does not state that a homestead food operation is exempt from a food license if offering homestead food product to: an auto parts store, thrift store, boutique clothing store, nonprofit or municipal event, flea or other type of open-air market, there is also no requirement listed in statute that would require food licensure if offering foods at one of these locations.

“These venues are not under the purview of Food Protection licensing and inspection; however, our agency would respond to consumer complaints of incorrect food labeling or adverse health events associated with a homestead food product should it be offered at one of these venues.”

Therefore, it’s now safe to say that shelf-stable foods (e.g., cookies, cakes) can legally be retailed anywhere and everywhere and that the language will make this absolutely clear in an upcoming bill.