BISMARCK — North Dakotans can once again sell homemade food products and handcrafted meals, the North Dakota South Central District Court ruled on Thursday, Dec. 10.

The Cottage Food Act, which was enacted by the state Legislature in 2017, says North Dakotans can sell "baked goods, jams, jellies, and other food and drink products produced by a cottage food producer" without inspection or licensing.

However, on Jan. 1, 2020, the North Dakota Department of Health implemented rules that changed the definition of what foods could be sold under the Cottage Food Act and banned the sale of homemade meals, low-acid canned goods, almost anything perishable and fresh-cut produce, according to the Thursday court filing.

Five North Dakotans sued the Department of Health, claiming the restrictions hurt local businesses and the health department overstepped its authority.

Thursday's ruling stated that because the act says other homemade food and drink products can be sold, the Department of Health's restrictions do not abide by the Cottage Food Act. South Central District Judge Cynthia Feland wrote in her decision the new rules were "in clear and direct conflict with the language" of the act.

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The Cottage Food Act specifies some foods that cannot be sold, like certain non-inspected meats.

“This victory means that more North Dakotans will be able to support their families and their farms by selling homemade foods,” said Erica Smith, a senior attorney for the Institute of Justice, in a statement. “It also means that North Dakotans will have more options to buy fresh and local food. This is exactly what the Legislature intended when it passed the Cottage Food Law three years ago.”

When asked if the Department of Health will appeal the district court's decision, Department of Health spokesperson Nicole Peske said it is considering its options.

"We’re disappointed in the outcome of the cottage food rules court case, but we respect the court’s decision. Our priority remains the same as it has always been, to protect the health and safety of North Dakotans," the Department of Health said in a statement.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.