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Photo by Andrew Richards
Madison County Public Health Administrator Toni Corona listens to Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons as he addresses a proposal to lobby for an amendment to the state’s Cottage Food Law in front of the County Health Committee.
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State Rep. Charlie Meier (R-Okawville)
When Madison County Health Department shut down Chloe Stirling’s Troy cupcake business in late January because her kitchen wasn’t licensed, there was a ripple effect.
The first current was local. Chloe’s mother, Heather, Jason Spengler, CEO of Spengler Plumbing Company of O’Fallon, Ill., Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons and two county health officials, Toni Corona and Mary Cooper, met Feb. 10 - according to Gibbons - to see what could be done in regards to providing a licensed kitchen in the Stirlings’ home for Chloe to work in.
The second wave was countywide. Gibbons decided to present to the Madison County Health Committee on Feb. 12 a presentation on whether he should lobby for support to propose an amendment to the Cottage Food section of the Food Handling Regulation Enforcement Act. The move was a result of Chloe’s business misfortune.
Gibbons said he would further contact state legislators to see what could be done to add eight simple words to the section.
And lastly, the third swell was statewide. Illinois Rep. Charles Meier (R-Okawville) proposed an amendment to the act itself by adding a section titled “Home kitchen operation.”
“I think we can all agree that the whole thing from a public point of view and how it affects the county started off on the wrong foot,” Gibbons said. “But since that time, the path that we’re going down is really a phenomenal thing.”
11-year-old Chloe had been making cupcakes and cakes out of her parents’ (Ched and Heather) house for friends, family, donations and other special events for two years before the county shut her down.
But after the group met on Feb. 10, they decided a commercial grade kitchen could be built for Chloe, Gibbons said.
The purpose of the meeting was so “we could all come together with a plan to allow for Chloe to continue to make her phenomenal cupcakes.”
The Spengler Company delivered, surprising Chloe at Triad Middle School in St. Jacob on Thursday, Feb. 27, with their plan to donate a kitchen so she could be baking by the summer. The company will also contribute an architect and labor, Chloe’s mom, Heather Stirling said.
In addition, York Heating & Air Conditioning will provide a heating and cooling system, and Eye on Design will donate window coverings.
“We’re going to need the whole summer to fill up the back orders,” Stirling said. “Now, we have people all over the country who want her stuff.”
Chloe also appeared on the Rachael Ray show Feb. 27, where Ray and The Cake Boss, Buddy Valastro, presented her with a commercial-grade oven, a refrigerator, a microwave and an additional range with the hood to add to her new kitchen.
A hundred pounds of powdered sugar have also been pledged from a Facebook source for Chloe’s new kitchen, Heather said, adding she, the mom, was “really excited about that.”
Stirling admits she “has been completely overwhelmed and humbled by the whole experience.”
She said Chloe is reserved and humble about all that's happened and said her daughter has worked hard to make her cupcake business venture successful.
“She’s always worked hard,” she said.
Gibbons said county health officials label what Chloe will have to do with her business regarding health compliance as “a low-risk operation” and will involve “very minimal regulation.”
“She’ll be able to work out of a kitchen that we’re able to permit and inspect,” County Health Administrator Toni Corona said. “Nothing changes with our ordinance or the way we do business. This operation becomes one of another of the 1,251 food service establishments that we permit and inspect on a routine basis.”
‘I don’t hesitate to go to Springfield’
Gibbons has discussed amending the Cottage Food section to state congressmen, such as State Rep. Dan Beiser (D-Alton) and State Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton), and said he will continue to reach out to state legislators.
He proposed adding eight words to the section. “The food is to be sold at a farmers’ market OR IN THE HOME WHERE IT IS PREPARED.”
“What I proposed is a simple solution that will satisfy and deal with most of this issue by allowing people to sell items out of their home as long as they follow the rules in the Cottage Food law, which is not excessive regulation,” he said.
“All they have to do is allow people to do it all year long and out of the kitchen where they make it,” Gibbons continued. “When I’m looking at something that’s cooked, I’d like to see the kitchen where it is made.”
The state’s attorney said he is mandated by state law to enforce the laws as they are.
“I’m also the kind of person who is looking for improvements to the law,” he said. “If there’s something we can do better, I don’t hesitate to go to Springfield and ask for it. I’ve done that many times, and sometimes I’ve seen success.”
‘Holding out the olive branch’
During the health committee meeting in mid February, Madison County Board and Health Committee member Judy Kuhn asked Gibbons about a bill that was adding a section to the FHRE Act.
That bill was House Bill 5354, or Section 3.4 called “Home kitchen operation,” and its primary sponsor is Meier.
The state congressman said county health departments are supposedly cracking down on soup kitchens to have volunteers take 14-hour certification classes so they “can come and serve for an hour.”
“Our health department is charged with keeping our citizens healthy and I understand that,” Meier said. “But, I think sometimes they can go too far.”
The bill states “home kitchen operation means a person who produces or packages non-potentially hazardous food in a kitchen of that person’s primary domestic residence for direct sale by the owner or a family member, or for sale by a religious, charitable, or nonprofit organization, stored in the residence where the food is made.”
To be qualified as a home kitchen operation: monthly gross sales are not allowed to be more than $1,000, the food is not a potentially hazardous baked food and a notice has to be provided to whomever buys the product showing the good was baked in a home kitchen.
“I’m learning a lot about this process,” Meier said. “I am trying to come up with something that all the future Chloe’s” can use in the future.
Meier filed the bill Monday, Feb. 10, and records show it was read by the state House of Representatives for the first time the same day.
It was assigned to the Health Care Licenses Committee on Thursday, Feb. 20, and Meier said it could be discussed in committee until March 28.
It will then be heard on the floor of the House, which could be in session up to Memorial Day, May 26.
Meier said he has met with a couple of county health departments to discuss the bill and has received opposition.
“I want to have a bill that will stop a little bit of this opposition, he said, adding he is working with those officials, and said he would like “to tweak a few things” before the bill goes into committee.
“I’m holding out the olive branch and seeing if we can meet in the middle,” Meier said.