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Cook County DPH Goes Sour Milk On Home Cooks

By Kim Bellware in Food on Jun 4, 2012 9:35PM

Photo Credit: Lucy Rendler-Kaplan

For some cooks, figuring out food certification, labels and regulations has become a full-time ordeal of separating the wheat from the bureaucratic chaff.

From the state level on down new regulations and stonewall tactics are inhibiting the success of small batch operations and home cooks, instead leaving them wrapped in red tape. Remember last summer when the Illinois Department of Public Health put the screws to small batch operations like Black Dog Gelato and Nice cream with the "dairy license" catch?

A new state law called the Illinois Local Food Entrepreneur and Cottage Food Operation Act is aimed at making it easier for home cooks to sell their goods at farmers markets; the main condition is that cooks must register with the local government and label their food uncertified. But here's the kicker: despite the state's apparent faith in small batch operations, the Cook County Department of Public Health is refusing to take the registrations citing the law's "ambiguity."

Sean McDermott, a spokesman for the health department and a county alderman from Countryside, Ill. was quoted by The Illinois Statehouse News saying that it's not [the county's] responsibility to take on additional work unnecessarily,” but maintained there is concern "products would be made in an unhealthy manner, causing illness and disease."

According to the law, “a unit of local government” must take registrations, though the unit doesn't have to be the local health department. Per the Illinois Statehouse News:

The department has asked the state’s attorney to determine if vendors should instead register with one of the 100-plus municipalities and towns within the county. The health department has received and turned down about 10 vendor registration applications, McDermott said.

Elsewhere in the state, registrations have been taken with no resistance and each county is regulating the law differently. Wes King, policy director for the Illinois Stewardship Alliance called Cook County’s reluctance "bureaucratic shuffling," telling the Illinois Statehouse News that the move "seems somewhat vindictive."