Volume No. 18 Issue No. 4 April 2021  

  Selling homemade goods

     In 2012, the Colorado Legislature enacted the Colorado Cottage Foods Act, which allows limited types of food products that are non-potentially hazardous (do not require refrigeration for safety) to be sold directly to consumers without licensing or inspections.
   According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment website, the legislation requires producers to complete a food safety training course prior to starting a cottage foods business. They must remain in good standing with the course requirements, including the renewal of certificates of completion as required by the course developer. 
   Michael Lucero holds a master’s in public health and is an extension agent with the Workforce Development program, which includes nutrition, food safety and health, at Colorado State University Extension in El Paso County. He is a trainer for the cottage food industry certification classes at CSU.
   Lucero said the CSU training is written into the Colorado Cottage Foods Act. They collaborate with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regarding any changes or updates to the CCFA or training requirements. He encourages consumers to make sure they are buying products from someone who has the cottage foods industry certificate from CSU.
   Statewide training is offered two times a month and costs $40. Lucero said trainees are able to take the online exam following the four-hour class; after passing the test, they receive a certificate that is good for three years. He said the benefit of a cottage industry is that they can use their own kitchen; they don’t need to rent space.
Some foods that can be sold under a cottage industry certification include spices, teas, nuts, honey, jams, certain baked goods, candies, pickled fruits and vegetables.
Lucero said the number of people who went through the cottage food industry class in El Paso County went up 165% in 2020, compared to 2019. In 2020, the county saw170 new cottage food industry businesses start up. He said COVID-19 probably contributed to the upswing because many people needed a way to supplement their income, and classes were all online instead of in person as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. El Paso County is a large county, so having to take classes in person is a barrier to some people, Lucero said.
   The focus this year is to educate the farmers market managers about the need for the CSU training, certification and labeling requirements, he said.
   “Talking about product ingredients with the consumer is an opportunity for the producer to have a conversation regarding what the product is, how it’s prepared, if they use locally sourced ingredients, etc.” Lucero said. “It’s a way to develop a relationship with the consumer, which is so important and unique with this type of business.”
   Justin Trubee, environmental protection specialist IV and manufactured food safety program coordinator with the Colorado Division of Environmental Health and Sustainability, said the CSU safety training includes how to correctly wash hands, how to properly wrap and store produce, how to label food products, what can and cannot be sold and other food safety issues.
   He said there are restrictions on how and where cottage food products can be sold. They must be delivered directly from producer to consumer and cannot be resold; they cannot be sold to restaurants or grocery stores and can only be sold in Colorado. Trubee said at the point of sale, there needs to be a clearly displayed placard, sign or card with the following disclaimer: "This product was produced in a home kitchen that is not subject to state licensure or inspection. This product is not intended for resale."
   Trubee said it is important to be an informed consumer; read labels and ask questions like what kind of training does this person have, where is the food prepared, preparation date, ingredients to include any common food allergens; and ask if they use peanuts in their kitchen or if pets are allowed in the cooking area.
   “Part of the fun of farmers markets is you get to talk to the people you’re buying products from, so you have that direct relationship; get to know them and ask questions,” Trubee said.
   Mary Ponting, owner of Early Bird Bakery LLC, said she received her cottage food certification through CSU in April 2020, and participated in the Backyard Market in Black Forest last summer.
   She said she loves to bake, and five years ago she started recipe testing and put a menu together. She also participates in the SOCO Virtual Farmers Market and sells from her website. Ponting said she enjoyed participating in the Backyard Market last year, plus meeting and getting to know the consumers.
   Theda Stone, manager of the Backyard Farmers Market, said part of managing a farmers market involves providing resources and educating new and existing businesses about what they can and cannot sell. Stone said, “For example, someone wanted to sell empanadas, and I had to tell them that is a potentially hazardous product; and they have to have a retail business license for that.”
   She said there is liability for a farmers market. “If our vendors are selling something they haven’t been educated on, or if a patron gets sick, that’s a liability that could affect the market,” Stone said. “We want all of them to be trained so everyone is on the same page.”
   Vendors must have their CSU certificate and liability coverage to participate in their farmers market, Stone said. They perform random inspections to ensure proper labeling and storage, plus the vendors give them a list of all the products they want to sell. She said this way, they can go through the list and make sure it is approved based on the cottage industry requirements.
   Stone said, “Farmers markets can really be great for cottage food businesses and help them to grow because they get immediate firsthand feedback on their products, plus face-to-face interaction with their customers.” She said it has been great watching all the new and existing cottage industry businesses grow. The Backyard Market starts again on May 22.
   To register for CSU certification classes, go to https://elpaso.extention.colostate.edu or https://epcextention.eventbrite.com
   Theda Stone manages the Backyard market and suggested this website for cottage industry businesses: https://www.cofarmtomarket.com.
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