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ND Health Department pulls proposed cottage foods rules

BISMARCK, N.D. -- The North Dakota Department of Health has moved away from plans to tighten up regulations surrounding the state's new cottage foods law.

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The sales of kuchen and other refrigerated foods from uninspected kitchens would have been regulated more closely under rules proposed by the North Dakota Department of Health. The department on March 20, 2018, pulled the rules from consideration. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)
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BISMARCK, N.D. - The North Dakota Department of Health has moved away from plans to tighten up regulations surrounding the state's new cottage foods law.

The department, in a news release on Tuesday, announced the comment period on the rules has been closed and public hearings scheduled for Thursday and Friday have been cancelled.

House Bill 1433, referred to by supporters as the North Dakota Food Freedom Act, was signed by Gov. Doug Burgum on April 12, 2017. The legislation allows for direct sale of uninspected homemade products, including baked goods, jams, jellies and pickles, as well as some farm products, including eggs. Such transactions are allowed virtually anywhere other than a licensed, inspected food business and must be direct, not via internet or mail.

The Health Department was in the midst of a regulatory process to add more definitions and rules for producers to follow, including prohibiting sales of dehydrated items without checks on water levels, refrigerated goods that aren't kept frozen before selling, and home canned goods that don't use approved recipes or include nonacidic canned foods, such as green beans. The rules also laid out requirements for labeling.

Nicole Peske, public information officer for the Health Department, says feedback from legislators and "key stakeholders" brought the department to the conclusion that they should "take a step back" from the proposed rules and do some more work and research on the topic.

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Advocates for the law that passed during the 2017 Legislature felt the rules would take away most of the gains for uninspected kitchens and farms made by the passage of the law.

LeAnn Harner, an advocate for the law that supporters call the "North Dakota Food Freedom Act," says the rules "flew in the face" of what the Legislature had intended.

"We're delighted" that the rules were pulled, she says.

Harner says supporters of the law wrote letters during the comment period, and Rep. Luke Simon, R-Dickinson, and Rep. Aaron McWilliams, R-Hillsboro, met with Health Department officials. They and other legislators have volunteered to work with the department to "make sure legislative intent is carried through," Harner says.

Peske says the proposed rules now are "null and void." Since there were no prior regulations of the law, it stands as it was passed. The law is in a section of the North Dakota Century Code in which the Health Department is allowed to make rules. Such rules must go through a comment period, be approved by the North Dakota Health Council, the North Dakota Attorney General's Office and the interim rule committee of the North Dakota Legislature.

"Should more rules come out in the future, the process will start again," Peske says.

Harner says anyone with questions about the cottage foods law can visit www.ndfoodfreedom.com and contact advocates and volunteers about buying or selling home-produced goods.

"They need to read the law and educate themselves and make sure they're handling their food in the most responsible way possible," she says.

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA
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