Proposed change to HB2144 could thwart cottage foods

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration by the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Environment on March 15, 2024.

March 15, 2024, 1 p.m.
Hawaii State Capitol
Conference Room 224 and Videoconference

To: Senate Committee on Agriculture and Environment
      Sen. Mike Gabbard, Chair
      Sen. Herbert M. “Tim” Richards, III, Vice-Chair

 From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
            Ted Kefalas, Director of Strategic Campaigns


Aloha Chair Gabbard, Vice-Chair Richards and other Committee members,

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its comments on the proposed HB1 for HB2144, which would charge the Department of Health with the responsibility of enacting rules for the sale and delivery of homemade food products, commonly known as “cottage foods.”

In general, we support any effort that would open the sale of cottage foods for Hawaii entrepreneurs. On its face, the proposed amendment purports to do just that.

We understand the desire to pass all details of this issue to the Department of Health, but we also fear that this could result in a set of rules that would make the sale of cottage foods too costly or difficult to pursue. Thus, we suggest that if the Committee pursues this rules-based approach to the legalization of cottage foods, you provide additional guidance regarding the type and extent of regulation desired for such enterprises.

We appreciate that this bill would be an important step forward in promoting cottage food enterprises in Hawaii. We only want to ensure that the regulation of such enterprises does not become an excessive burden on either the businesses themselves or the agency charged with overseeing them.

At present, Hawaii residents who want to make and sell certain homemade food products are forced to comply with burdensome and unnecessary regulations, such as the requirement that some of the foods be prepared in a commercial kitchen.

Last year, in the West Hawaii Today newspaper, one of our researchers highlighted the absurdity of this rule.

“Imagine you have an auntie in Ka‘u who wants to start selling her famous lilikoi jam,” wrote Grassroot policy researcher Jonathan Helton. “She’s an excellent cook, and the neighbors often compliment her jams and jellies when she gives them as gifts.

“One of her neighbors tells a cousin on Maui how amazing the jams are, and this cousin gets in touch with your auntie to buy a few jars through the mail.

“But stop right there,” Helton said. “State law prohibits homemade foods from being sold through the mail unless they were made in a commercial kitchen.”[1]

As pointed out in a Honolulu Star-Advertiser commentary by Rourk Reagan, who operates Pukana La Farms in Waiohinu, Hawaii, commercial kitchens can cost upward of $20 an hour to rent.[2] This can comprise a major barrier to local residents who want to turn their family recipes into a bit of extra cash but aren’t interested in running a full-fledged food business.

Almost a decade ago, a report from the Kohala Center recommended allowing sales through the mail and sales through certain third parties.[3] The state now has the opportunity to turn that recommendation into law.

Regarding concerns that homemade or cottage foods can endanger public health, there is little evidence to suggest this is the case.

The Hawaii Department of Health has stated that no foodborne illnesses have been linked to cottage food operations since the department first took steps to legalize such foods in 2015.[4]

Likewise, a survey of state health departments across seven states with scaled-back cottage food laws found that no foodborne illnesses had been confirmed to be linked to cottage foods; only two mild cases were even suspected to be caused by cottage foods.[5]

Considering that foodborne illnesses are frequently linked to restaurant-prepared foods, cottage foods have a stellar track record on food safety.

Overall, removing unnecessary barriers to mom and pop food entrepreneurs through HB2144 would pay big dividends in the state. The bill would also further Hawaii’s goal of producing more food in the state and boosting its food sovereignty.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

Ted Kefalas
Director of Strategic Campaigns
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

[1] Jonathan Helton, “Relax rules on ‘cottage food’ entrepreneurs,” West Hawaii Today, Nov. 4, 2023.
[2] Rourk Reagan, “Column: Hawaii farmers and home cooks deserve a chance to grow,” Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Sept. 28, 2023.
[3] ”Hawai‘i Cottage Food Business Working Group Report, 2014,” The Kohala Center, Jan. 13, 2015, pp. 12-13.
[4] Correspondence with the Department of Health under the Uniform Information Practices Act, Oct. 20, 2023.
[5] Erica Smith Ewing and Jennifer McDonald, “New Data Show Homemade Food for Sale is Incredibly Safe,” Institute for Justice, Sept. 6, 2023.

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