Virginia has a new bill filed for the next legislative session (HB 135), call the “Virginia Food Freedom Act”, which is trying to go where no cottage food law has gone before! Its basic premise is to allow home cooks to make any kind of food without any certification from the health department. Almost all limitations are gone: no licenses, no inspections, no food restrictions, no sales limit, no rules. The only real limitation is that sales must be direct, face-to-face transactions.
It is, essentially, trying to go back to the way things used to be. For thousands of years, people have made and sold food without any government oversight. But for the past 20 years, that’s all changed in the United States, and now virtually every sale of food has a health department inspection to back it up.
HB 135 says “no more”. It says that if you run a small food business, you don’t need health inspectors checking up on you. It says that the direct connections you create with your customers will help keep you accountable. And most importantly, it says that you are smart enough to refrigerate things that need refrigeration. Virtually all of the cottage food laws in every other state limit cottage food operations to non-potentially hazardous foods. To put that more bluntly: it says that home cooks can’t be trusted to make potentially hazardous foods (cooked meats, cooked vegetables, dairy products, etc.) in a safe way. This new bill puts trust back in the equation.
For the first time in 20 years, this bill is trying to break new/old ground and bring an entire state back to basics. But the question arises: is it too much? Bills should try to aim high, since they typically get more limited as they pass through each stage of legislature. But if a bill aims too high, it could get ignored altogether and go nowhere.
With the entire nation adopting cottage food laws and embracing local foods, it will be interesting to see if Virginia is forward-thinking enough to raise the bar for the cottage food movement. Could the term “cottage food” eventually come to mean any food that is made at home, rather than the non-PHF subset we’re used to? Could this be the start of another wave of laws that set a new standard for home food businesses?
If you agree with the law and want to help support it, go ahead and sign the petition. And if you don’t agree with it, you can just keep buying your “safe” food at McDonalds.