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Cottage to table

Local food producers make it their business to prevent foodborne illness

Karen Peterson with trays of cupcakes

Under an exemption in Minnesota’s cottage food law, Karen Peterson of Blooming Prairie is able to make and sell baked goods out of her home, including her top-selling cupcakes: salted caramel and white chocolate raspberry.

The 2015 law allows Minnesotans to make and sell certain types of food from their home kitchens (or “cottage”) without a license as long as they register annually and complete food safety training. They produce confections, canned jams and jellies, salsa and sauces, and more.

“It’s beneficial to me to be able to stay home and make some side income for my family,” says Peterson, who calls her business Confections by Karen. Producers like Peterson can earn up to $18,000 annually from cottage food sales.

“University of Minnesota Extension became involved when legislators were first looking at the law to see how food safety education could be included,” says Suzanne Driessen, Extension food safety educator. “Our goal is to help ensure a safe product and prevent foodborne illness.”

Close-up of cupcake with green frosting

Once the law was passed, Extension got to work developing training by talking with cottage food producers about their educational needs. The resulting workshops focus on processes like drying, baking, canning and fermenting.

Students bring in their own products to test pH and moisture content—key hazard markers. Stations set up around the classroom allow learners to choose hands-on, interactive lessons about what’s most relevant to their type of food product.

“Feedback from the course indicates participants plan to make changes based on what they learned,” says Driessen. “For example, they will include sub-ingredients [elements of ingredients] and allergens on their labels.”

The Cottage Foods Course, which will also be offered online starting in 2018, covers more than just the preparation, but also how to package, label, store and transport a safe food product.

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