The Senate sent legislation to the governor Wednesday that would loosen regulations on Iowans selling food made at home and in temporary establishments such as farmer's market stands.

House File 661 passed Wednesday on a 33-15 vote. The bill's floor manager, Sen. Jesse Green, R-Boone, said the legislation is "pro-small business," helping home food and processing establishments, food processing plants and temporary food establishments, and farmers' market vendors.

The bill sent to Gov. Kim Reynolds follows a 2022 law, House File 2431, which allows people to create businesses making food in their homes to be sold in stores. This law only allowed the sale of food that is not time or temperature-controlled for safe consumption or preserved foods like jams, pickles, chocolate or spices, or those under 41 degrees.

Home-based restaurants would still not be allowed under the bill, but the legislation would allow home food businesses to sell food made for immediate consumption.

"A classic example of this would be they can sell cold pizza, but not hot pizza," Green said. Other states with similar "food freedom laws" do not have regulations restricting them from serving hot food, he said.

The legislation also changes the licensing system for businesses like RAGBRAI or farmer's market vendors selling refrigerated goods from county-by-county to statewide annual licenses.

But Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, said as a former restaurant inspector, he had many problems with the bill because of the difficulties the Iowa Department of Inspections, Appeals and Licensing would face enforcing food safety regulations on home-based businesses, while dealing with greater risks of contamination such as exposure to pets or children in the home.

The bill would also discourage people from opening restaurants, he said, as home-based food businesses would face significantly lower costs in food safety requirements, as residential properties do not have the same fire safety, water quality or waste disposal requirements that restaurant properties are required to have to ensure food safety.

"That poor person that does have the restaurant in your community - who is struggling, who has complied with the health code - you're telling tell his competition, 'different rules, different rules for you out of your home than the poor person on Main Street who's paying property taxes, who's doing everything he can to survive,'" Bisignano said. "The person out of their basement, they don't have any of these expenses. So you tell me why they want to go open a business when they got one in their house."

Bisignano also criticized calling the measure a "food freedom" bill, saying allowing these businesses to work out of residential neighborhoods and apartment buildings violates the freedoms of their neighbors who did not agree to allowing the additional traffic, smells, waste and more that comes with operating a restaurant.

He brought up the reports of food-safety violations in restaurant inspections of establishments that are held to higher standards than home-based businesses will be.

Green said the bill will not stop local governments from being able to regulate home-based businesses on issues like public health and safety, building fire codes or traffic and noise control. He also said these businesses are still required to stay as smaller operations, capped at $50,000 in annual gross sales, and would not have the waste or traffic issues as a restaurant.

The people running home-based food businesses are required to take food safety training courses through DIAL, maintain records on their recipes and production, and are held to sanitation and water testing standards, Green said.

"We're not the first state to do this," he said. "And there has yet to be one proven case of foodborne illness that has resulted from a home food processing establishment in these other states."

Green also said these businesses would not be in competition with restaurants.

"The bottom line here is you have two completely different business models," Green said. "You're comparing apples to oranges. Restaurants have a competitive advantage such as dine-in eating, alcohol sales, and a totally different environment that you cannot get from home food processing establishments. … This is an avenue that allows people who love to cook to experience making just a little bit of money, and think about possibly making that next big step to starting a restaurant someday."

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