Arizonans might want to think twice before chowing down on baked goods sold from home kitchens.
The Arizona Home Baked and Confectionary Goods Program, started in 2011, provides broad leniency for home cooks to sell their products to the public. The program has its limitations, Arizona Sonora News has found:
- Nobody monitors the food made and sold.
- Five counties, including Pima County, don’t require food handler registration, so anyone in those counties can sell their own food to the public with no food-handling training.
- Some people registered in the program sell food they aren’t supposed to.
“Yes, you could still have someone with hepatitis that bakes a cookie before they package it, they go to the restroom and don’t wash their hands thoroughly, and they could put something back on that cookie and you go and buy it and you could potentially become sick, if you consume it in a fairly quick timespan,” said David Ludwig, Program Manager for Consumer Health and Food Safety at Pima County.
“The risk is minimal, but it’s still a risk,” Ludwig said. “It’s still out there.”
In October 2011, within the first month of the program’s implementation, 700 Arizonans registered for certification. As of last January, 3,731 residents were registered with the program, according to Laura Oxley, spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Health.
To register, anyone can go online and fill out a one-page application, including name, contact information, a description of the baked goods that will be sold, and a check box for having a food handler card, if the applicant’s county requires it. Counties that don’t require food handler cards are Pima, Cochise, Graham, Navajo and Santa Cruz.
Once approved, a person can then legally sell to the public a variety of goodies made at home, such as brownies, donuts, tortillas, breads and fudge. They are not allowed to sell a list of potentially hazardous foods, such as cheesecake, jams, honey, tamales, smoothies and syrups.
In reality, though, nobody checks.
The law doesn’t allow for the Health Department to monitor individuals, unless there is a complaint, according to Blanca Caballero, Department of Health Food Safety Program Manager.
The main recourse from an aggrieved eater is either civil litigation, if there are damages, or shopping elsewhere.
“Most people are going to say ‘I’ll never going to buy that product again’ and they never make a complaint,” Ludwig said. “And you know what, we never hear about it, and that’s unfortunate, but that happens.”
These baked goods could be sold just about anywhere in a community, Caballero said.
“What we’ve just heard from registrants that we’ve interacted with is that some of them sell their product at farmers markets, out of retail stores, out of restaurants, it’s just a variety of ways, some of them do it online, through Facebook,” Caballero said. “They can do it any way they wish to do it.”
The certificate never expires, Caballero said. People can teach themselves food handling safety voluntarily at the program’s website.
“We want them to educate themselves on the ways they can prevent cross-contamination and just make the food as safely as possible if it’s going to be made at a home,” Caballero said. “There’s other options available too, there’s a lot of companies offering food safety training online.”
If the county does not require a food handler card, it’s up to the individual to choose whether or not they become educated on food safety.
“Yeah, the baker may not have the training because the county may not have a required food handlers class,” Ludwig said. “But, again, your risk is minimal. But you the consumer get to decide if you want to take that risk or not.”
Angela Carr of Phoenix has worked in the restaurant industry for 20 years and decided to start selling under the program out of necessity for her dairy, gluten, and soy-free dietary restrictions. She sells chocolate, which is her most popular product, as well as wraps, soups, brownies and smoothies.
Carr resides in Maricopa County, which requires registrants to obtain a food handlers card. Carr took the online course, and was done within an hour.
“It was quick and simple,” Carr said. “Very easy to follow.”
Carr registered for home-bake certification in May of 2014 and started selling within a month. Carr sells through her website, as well as by word of mouth to family and friends.
According to the Health Department’s website, smoothies are not on the approved list to sell under the program. Carr said she was unaware of that.
“I looked at the list initially when I signed up, they might have added it,” Carr said. “If there has been an update to that list I don’t know, I’ll definitely check up on that.”
Carr has received one email updating her from the Health Department within the past year.
“I had no idea. I’m kind of a stickler for the rules, so I went through their unapproved list with a fine tooth comb initially,” Carr said. “I will look at that, and if that’s the case, I’ll definitely take smoothies off that list.”
Carr said the Health Department needs to keep registrants updated if changes are made to the program.
“Maybe it would be as simple as having everybody re-register every year, or a renewal process,” Carr said. “That does need to be looked at, at the very least.”
Like Carr, Michael Miller of Gilbert is registered under the program to sell his baked items on his website, Good Boy Bake Shop.
Miller was able to easily obtain a food handler card through the online course, and started selling his baked goods a few months after the program was implemented.
Miller sells cupcakes, cookies, cakes and cheesecakes. The red velvet cupcake is his most popular item on the menu.
Like Carr, Miller is currently selling an item on the not approved list: cheesecakes.
“I have not gotten into any trouble with cheesecakes and haven’t had an issue with customers who have ordered them from me,” Miller said. “They’re not super popular.”
Miller cannot recall if the Health Department was explicit on what could and could not be sold at the time when he signed up for the program. Miller “doesn’t remember seeing anything regarding cheesecakes.”
Jamie Pacheco, who has been selling under the program since 2012, is following the rules by only selling approved baked goods on her website, such as cakes, cupcakes and other dessert items.
“It’s frustrating because it does reflect badly, I think, on the ones who are following the rules,” Pacheco said.
Pacheco works part-time and sells her baked goods as another source of income, and eventually would like to be a full-time baker. Although not required by Pima County, Pacheco took a class to receive her food handler card.
Pacheco finds new ways to make classic recipes in order to follow the guidelines set by the Department of Health, which are just as good, Pacheco said.
“Today I made red velvet cake, and traditionally, red velvet cake is frosted with a cream cheese frosting,” Pacheco said. “But that’s not one of the allowed items that you can use as a home baker so I don’t offer that to my customers.”
“There’s a reason we can’t make those items, so they’re putting their customers, the public, at risk and they are putting themselves at risk for personal liability,” Pacheco said. “It gives all the home bakers a negative look to the public. It just takes one bad experience, I think, before they would shut the whole program down.”
According to Ludwig, 40 states have some sort of cottage food law, and in his opinion, Arizona has one of the better laws. It limits the risk by limiting bakers to foods that are not potentially hazardous.
However, the law does not require anyone inspect a registrant’s kitchen before they are approved to start selling under the law.
“The bottom line is, there’s no one going into your kitchen to see if Fluffy the cat is on the same counter where you’re baking your cookies, or Fido has been licking the spoon of your fudge, or if the person making it, they’re in good health,” Ludwig said.
Ludwig said he would hate for the law to become any more lenient and “allow for more food preparation than just the baked goods and confectionary products.”
Ludwig’s piece of advice: “consumer beware.”
“If they follow the law and they label their goods coming out of a home, a private kitchen, you are the one that decides if you want to buy it or not,” Ludwig said.
Holly Regan is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at email@example.com
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