Published September 16, 2022
Thanks to many years of advocacy, Texas’ cottage food law offers wonderful opportunities for farmers and other individuals to start up small food businesses in their home kitchens. Yet this law is now under attack by local health departments that are simply ignoring the limits on their power in order to harass and extract fees from cottage food producers.
If you have experienced this, please contact FARFA and let us know! We also urge everyone who cares about food freedom to contact their state legislators to urge them to rein in these rogue health departments (see details below).
Before we get into details of our call to action, here’s some background.
Although the Texas cottage food law is only about a decade old, it’s an integral part of rebuilding a local food system. This law allows people to get into direct-to-consumer food sales with minimal start-up and infrastructure costs, which can be vital for farmers who wants to add value-added goods to their offerings. It allows individuals to try out whether selling food locally is a good fit for them, test out their product offerings and pricings, and develop a customer base before having to invest in a commercial kitchen.
Almost every Texas farmers’ market has cottage food producers selling their wares, and some of those have grown into full-time operations.
The very first Texas cottage food law, passed in 2011, was very clear: Cottage food producers are not “retail food establishments” and thus do not need to obtain permits from the state or local health departments. Moreover, while cottage food producers do have to comply with some basic requirements for food safety education and labeling their products, they do not have to submit their recipes to the health departments, be subject to inspections, or have any other involvement with the health department.
The expansions of the law in 2013 and 2019, which allow cottage food producers to make more types of products and sell in more places, made no changes to this basic structure.
After FARFA fought for the passage of the original law in 2011, we spent a lot of time pushing back on local health departments who harassed the new fledgling cottage food industry. We spent many hours writing letters to these departments pointing out how they could not legally inspect home kitchens, prevent people from making baked goods with eggs or milk, tell people they couldn’t advertise their operations, or do any of the other various things the departments came up with to put barriers in the way of home food businesses.
Gradually, the opposition died down in the face of our consistent work. And with our work to pass expansions of the law in 2013 and 2019, cottage food producers can now sell a wide range of products anywhere in the state directly to consumers.
But now the health departments have come up with a new angle, and they appear unwilling to back down because it provides them with financial benefits – requiring permits of cottage food producers.
This is a blatant violation of the state law. Yet, as these local entities know, if we sue them, we can’t collect damages. At most, they’d be ordered to stop the practice, but without paying any damages, while we would be left with thousands in legal fees. We know of at least half a dozen counties and cities that have started claiming that cottage food operators need permits this year, despite the fact that they had been complying with the clear state law for the last decade, recognizing that cottage food producers can sell without permits.
One of the most egregious examples has been the Tarrant County Health Department, which has also claimed that cottage food producers need to submit their recipes for approval – and then claimed certain products weren’t allowed under the cottage food law despite meeting the law’s requirements. Together with Homemade Texas (a partner organization), FARFA sent a letter to the Tarrant County health department setting out the problems with their illegal requirements for cottage food producers. You can read our letter here.
Please join us in taking action!
Let us know if you are a cottage food producer and have been told you need a permit from the local health department or that you need to submit your recipes to them for approval. Email Judith@FarmAndRanchFreedom.org with your name, the county/city that told you this, what you are selling, and, if you have it, copies of any emails or documentation. The more information we have about where this is happening, the more effectively we can fight it!
Whether you have experienced this problem or not, or if you just want the harassment of these small-business owners to stop, we encourage you to contact your State Representative and Senator to voice your support for cottage food producers. FARFA plans to work on bills in the next session both to put a stop to this abuse by local health departments and to continue to expand the opportunities for home-based food businesses. Tell your elected officials that you want them to support this work!
You can share FARFA’s list of priorities, which explain the cottage food law expansions as well as other important provisions to help small farmers and local food producers, at Priority Issues for the 2023 Texas Legislative Session | Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance.
You can find who represents you and get their contact info using our Elected Officials Lookup.