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Green beans are among the home-canned foods are debated for sale under proposed rules from the North Dakota Department of Health. Courtesy photo / Pixabay

North Dakota health council to review proposed cottage food rules

BISMARCK - Proposed administrative rules for North Dakota's disputed cottage foods law are about to enter the oven.

The North Dakota State Health Council will review the proposed rules at its meeting on Wednesday, May 15. North Dakota's cottage foods law has been in dispute since mid-2018 when cottage food proponents clashed with state health officials over a rule-making process on the 2017 law that expanded direct-to-consumer sales of home baked and canned items.

A bill in the 2019 state legislative session meant to clarify the law's definitions and intent. But it failed in the session's final days as House lawmakers sparred over low-acid canned foods, such as green beans. "Food freedom" proponents and state health officials differ on low-acid canned items as allowed for sale.

The proposed rules outline a bevy of definitions and food items not allowed for sale, including low-acid canned foods, and requires frozen transport and labeling for refrigerated foods. The 2019 bill originally sought those regulations.

Upon review, the State Health Council will decide to proceed with or amend the rules, according to Pamela Thompson, executive assistant with the state Department of Health.

After the council's OK, the proposed rules would enter a public hearing process at a later date. No public comment will be taken at Wednesday's meeting.

"All what they're looking at is they're going to look through the rules to make sure they believe they look good to go," Thompson said.

Some cottage food proponents have indicated their interest to oppose or participate in the public hearing process. LeAnn Harner, who led opposition to the 2019 bill, disputes state health officials' legal right to promulgate rules.

"I think we're pretty good," Harner said. "We thought the legislation that was passed two years ago was fairly clear."

Julie Wagendorf, director of the state Division of Food and Lodging, said health officials will consider "dialogue" from the 2019 bill's legislative process in the new rules.

The State Health Council meets 9 a.m. Wednesday in Conference Room 212 of the Judicial Wing of the state Capitol at Bismarck.