Why Utahns Can Now Sell Homemade Food

The following op-ed was published this week in St. George News.

Last year, Governor Herbert issued an executive order to mandate that regulations from the state “shall not impose unnecessary burdens” on the economy or on individuals. Despite this welcome direction, small farmers and food producers throughout the state have been restricted by unnecessary and burdensome regulations for many years.

For example, throughout the state—especially in rural areas—families sometimes bake items that they decide to sell at the local farmers market. But these baked goods cannot be legally sold; without the proper permits, fees, and regulatory compliance, even simple snacks are contraband in commerce.

Over the years, some enterprising home cooks have decided to be legally compliant in selling their items by becoming a certified cottage food establishment. This process requires a bureaucratic blessing of your every recipe—which, if modified ever so slightly, requires a new approval. This weeks-long (and sometimes months-long) process inhibits the ability of these micro-entrepreneurs to adapt to available and seasonal produce and ingredients. What otherwise might be a good option for a small business becomes a barrier to success.

Fortunately, things will soon be changing in Utah. Following several years of advocacy from our respective organizations and the tireless efforts of Representative Marc Roberts, the Utah Legislature recently passed a new bill that legalizes the direct sale of food to an informed consumer. House Bill 181, sponsored by Rep. Roberts, passed the House 64-7 and passed the Senate unanimously.

HB 181 does several important things, but its main purpose is to exempt food producers from licensing, permitting, certification, inspection, packaging, and labeling requirements for food that is produced and sold within Utah, sold directly to its consumer for home use, and labeled to indicate that the food has not been inspected and may not be resold.

While it took some time to persuade legislators to adopt this change, the reduction of this regulatory burden makes sense; regulations are to protect uninformed third parties. When you shop at the grocery store, you don’t know the conditions of the farms and factories in which each item was processed. You cannot inspect these locations yourself, nor are you familiar with their processes. Regulations are designed to ensure safety on your behalf.

Direct sale situations are different. If your neighbor is a talented cook who wants to sell her meals, and you are aware of the quality of her food and the sanitation of her kitchen, you don’t need anybody to protect you. You trust her and can inspect her work yourself. And because she has a personal interaction with her customers, she has a strong incentive to eliminate any health risks. On the flip side, factories with faceless customers still cause illnesses, despite being very highly regulated.

Regulations make less sense in a direct, personal transaction. A government that helps uninformed people avoid danger becomes a nanny state when it prevents informed and consenting people from exchanging their goods and services.

We’re all familiar with situations in which homemade food is regularly shared—birthdays, when a neighbor is sick, or when a new family has moved in down the street. No regulations govern these widespread occurrences, nor have any laws prohibited the practice. Because homemade food is exchanged for money rather than being freely shared does not mean it is inherently more dangerous to consume.

Now that the legislature agreed with correcting this problem—and since Governor Herbert has now signed HB 181 into law—these “unnecessary burdens” on direct-sale food transactions have thankfully been reduced. As such, Utah becomes the fourth—and most populous—state to deregulate the sale of home-cooked food.

Regulation should be kept in check, serving its true purpose: protecting the uninformed from threats they cannot see. Thankfully, this new law removes “unnecessary burdens” from farmers and home cooks statewide, ensuring that informed and consenting adults are free to buy directly from their favorite food producer, without the cost and hassle of regulatory compliance getting in the way.