Homemade jam as “an act of defiance”

From “A Cultural Analysis of Homemade Jam in the Twenty-First Century” by Lynn Houston:

Thus, home jam-making in the twenty-first century breaks with earlier methods of this practice and comes to represent this contemporary historical moment. The practice of making jam at home is counterculture and radical if it seeks to resist the heavily advertised and marketed brand name jams and provide the consumer with a sense of agency and control over the processes of production. Although it may cost cooks more money and take more time than simply purchasing jam at the supermarket, every jar of jam they make themselves is an act of defiance, however small, because it refuses to put money into the pockets of multinational corporations. Here, to use the terms of Michel de Certeau in the Practice of Everyday Life, the consumer unmakes his own domination by developing practices of everyday life that “poach … on the property” of the corporation and factory owners. Making jam at home is one of the “ways of operating [that] form the counterpart, on the consumer’s … side, of the mute processes that organize the establishment of socioeconomic order” (xiv).

We are presently swimming in nectarines. Hundreds upon hundreds of nectarines. My family has been busy helping with the harvest, and my wife has been busy making nectarine jam. I think she’s up around 40 jars now. We’d like to sell the jam, but many folks have told me that an FDA-approved commercial kitchen is required. On the other hand, the owners of the fruit stand up the road are selling their own jams made in their farmhouse kitchen. When I asked one of them – presumably the wife and the cook herself – about FDA requirements, she just shrugged and said no one has ever bothered them about it. So I suppose one can do this on a small scale and get away with it around here. There are lots of “old school” people in this county who prefer their food home-grown and home-made.

I’m still looking into the rules for California and Glenn County – a web search hasn’t turned up anything – but here’s a brochure from the state of Washington detailing the requirements in Clallam County:

Preparation – Product must be prepared in a clean environment. Children and pets are not allowed in the area. Before starting preparation, all surfaces should be sanitized with a wiping cloth that is stored in a solution of one teaspoon of bleach to one gallon of cool water. Hands must be washed thoroughly and good personal hygiene must be practiced. Preparation should not be done by any person experiencing symptoms of illness. All equipment and utensils must be clean. As always, frequent handwashing is very important.

Children and pets not allowed in the kitchen??? How’s that for crazy.

Containers – Each container must be visually inspected to ensure there are no obvious cracks, breaks, sharp points, or other defects. Each container must be sterilized. Lids or seals must be new and may not be reused.

Sealing – Paraffin wax is an acceptable sealing method. Thermal processes, such as hot fill hold process or hot water/steam bath processes are also acceptable means of sealing. (If using a thermal process you must follow approved guidelines such as WSU Cooperative Extension Bulletin EB1665 or other USDA approved and published guidelines for home canning of fruit based products.)

Labeling – It is a good idea to have your label approved by Environmental Health before printing to save time and money in the event of necessary changes.

The label must contain:

  • the common name of the food (i.e. Strawberry Jam).
  • a list of all ingredients, including additives, in descending order of predominance. You may use the term ‘spices’ to protect any secrets.
  • the name and address or phone number of the processor so consumers can contact you if a problem exists. The contact name can be a company name or an individual’s name.
  • a packaging date/batch code. This can be in code form ( i.e. 980630 means June 30, 1998 ) and can include as much information as you want ( time, batch number, etc. ). If there is a product recall, each batch can be recalled instead of a whole product line. An interpretation of your code must be filed with the Environmental Health Division.
  • “Keep Refrigerated” if the product is to be sold refrigerated. This can be on the label or on a separate sticker.
  • accurate information.

The label must be:

  • easily readable. Labels can be hand written if they are legible and contain complete information.
  • written in English, although duplicate labeling in foreign languages is allowed.

Labeling is expensive and time consuming, especially for a small enterprise.

Laboratory Testing
If you intend to sell your product unrefrigerated, laboratory testing must be performed to determine that the product is not a potentially hazardous food (PHF). (PHFs are foods that support the rapid growth of bacteria.)

I’ve never seen jams – homemade or otherwise – sold refrigerated. It seems that most everyone would have to submit their jams for laboratory testing before selling.

Please have your product tested for the following parameters:

  • pH (or acidity level)
  • water activity
  • soluble solids

You will need to prepare a batch for testing, and some labs will require recipes as well as product samples. Please contact the laboratory to determine what needs to be submitted for product testing. Some laboratories will provide only the results, while others may also offer to assist you with recipe modifications if needed.

You may choose not to have your product tested. However, an untested jam or jelly must be assumed to be a PHF, and must be kept and sold refrigerated. In order to sell an untested product, you are also required to have a Food Service Operating Permit from Clallam County.

Registering Your Product
Prior to selling your product, you must register it with Clallam County Environmental Health. Simply fill out the
registration form and provide the necessary information (recipe, label, and lab results if product is unrefrigerated). After County review you will receive a copy of the form with an approval or denial notation at the bottom.

Refrigerated Products
If the fruit-based product is tested and determined to be a potentially hazardous food (PHF), it must be sold refrigerated. If you choose not to have your product tested, it must meet the same requirements as a refrigerated product.

Fruit based products requiring refrigeration must be produced in a County approved commercial kitchen and must be kept refrigerated at 45ºF or below at all times. These products cannot be offered for sale if prepared in the home. To sell refrigerated products, you must register your product and obtain a Food Service Operating Permit from Clallam County.

There you have it. Selling homemade jam is flat-out illegal … at least in Clallam County, Washington.

Containers must be limited to one pint or smaller. Refrigeration of the product must occur as soon after processing as possible. Refrigeration must be maintained until sale of the product. The product must be labeled “Keep Refrigerated“.

Vegetable Based Products
Because of the physical properties of vegetable-based products, they are considered potentially hazardous food (unless scientifically proven otherwise). Vegetable based products must be produced in a County approved commercial kitchen and must be kept refrigerated at 45ºF or below at all times. Vegetable-based products cannot be offered for sale if prepared in the home. To sell vegetable-based products, you must obtain a
Food Service Operating Permit from Clallam County.

If you have someone else sell your product (i.e. your products are available for sale at a retail store), you will be considered a wholesaler and are required to obtain a license from the
Washington State Dept. of Agriculture. If you are a wholesaler, you do not need to register your product with Clallam County Environmental Health.

So much for a home business selling jams, pies, muffins, cheese, or most anything else prepared in your own kitchen!

Happily, there seem to be lots of people around here breaking the rules. I just mentioned the seller of homemade jams at the produce stand up the road. Last month at a harvest fair I bought some homemade jams from another local vendor. Every week a Mexican lady drives up to the house in an old gray sedan and sells my wife her delicious homemade tamales. (At least they taste homemade: we don’t ask, and she doesn’t tell.) We already have customers for our grass-fed beef and goat’s milk if we ever decide to go underground …

12 thoughts on “Homemade jam as “an act of defiance”

  1. Your inner anarchist is showing.

    Seriously, that sort of thing makes me steam. It also makes me long to meet a _true_ libertarian, instead of these libertine fakers. It annoys me no end to realize that many people who talk about “getting the government out of ______” really seem to care only about regulations on anything connected with sex, but never turn a hair over regulations on normal, ordinary stuff like jam-selling and what-have-you. Talk about having it backwards.


  2. The underground is alive and well, we sell bread and eggs, all without the all-knowing, all-powerful, government bothering us. Time will tell if that continues to be the case. And what’s a kitchen without the usual assortment of kids and dogs? How did our pioneers survive without all these ‘health codes’??


  3. Yeah, we discovered all this regulatory nonsense when we looked into selling our wonderful farm-made value-added produce. I was all for selling small quantities under the table, as (1) the state had no right to interfere and (2) these regulations were put in place by big producers precisely to make the playing field too difficult for their competition.

    But, unfortunately, I’m married to a lawyer. A “recovering” lawyer, yes, but one who still reminds me constantly that IF we were ever to get caught, the authorities would likely hold us to a much higher standard and come down much harder on us because she is, technically, an “officer of the court” who therefore should know better.

    Yeah, whatever. I guess it’s all the more homemade farm produce for us to enjoy ourselves.


  4. We don’t have any problem selling eggs roadside (I haven’t looked it up, but I don’t think there are any problems.) In general, SC is not a highly regulated place, but I think meat is different-it falls under Fed law. I think if we wanted to sell even the occasional pig for a barbacue, I think we would have to pass a stringent set of regs.

    Don’t know about jams or goat cheese, but we’ll probably find out eventually as we explore these things.


  5. I read this article as I was perusing about information to see what the guidelines were for making homemade jams in CA and WA state! Much to my surprise, I was in “stitches” (lol) as I read the comments on this post because it is really ridiculous to know that the government continues to dictate even the most simplistic things in life! Thank god the government cannot dictate what I want to eat for dinner! Thank you for writing this post. It was educational and the comments are funny. My family wants to join the underground…world :)


  6. All U have to do is to rent s restaurant’s kitchen for the time it takes to jar up yr jam. I am not scared of regulations. When I make my blackberry jam for sale, I want my customers to know I didn’t have the family dog or the kids running around at the same time I was putting it up. I am finding a friendly restaurant that will let me get its kitchen for one 8 hour period.


  7. I know it’s been well over a year since this article has been replied to but in case someone still is interested I will put my two cents in. For the most part our home kitchens with their children, pets, and hand washed, non sterilized utensils do okay and we survive just fine. However, that day you spent on the porcelain throne (either end giving it up) did you blame your sick coworker or the dinner that you didn’t sufficiently cook the night before? Well, no one else got sick in my house you say. Well, of course not. Food-borne illnesses, like all others, affect those that are young, or pregnant or those with a weakened immune system more than those that are in good health. Maybe that day you were more susceptible to the illness than everyone else. I bet a good chunk of “having a touch of the flu” can be attributed to some form of food poisoning. I have no scientific data at this time as these sick days don’t get reported since most people don’t go to the hospital for having diarrhea or throwing up but I was a restaurant manager for over 10 years and had to be ServSafe certified in order to be a Manager on Duty. Now, let’s say you sell your innocuous seeming pecan compote to my son. You don’t mention that the spoon you scooped the pecans with, you also used to scoop cashews for your cashew butter. You wiped it off but didn’t wash it cause it wasn’t dirty and a nut is a nut, right? People just worry about peanuts, right? Even if I asked to be safe, if there were cashews in it, you may say no cause your helper got the cashews, wiped the scoop off and stuck it in the pecans without you knowing. My boy would know in a second. My son would take one bite, spit it out and start crying cause it hurts. Twenty minutes later (crying the whole time ) he would start vomiting and it would happen at least 2 more times through the night. I found this out the hard way. He has no problems with peanuts and so I thought he would be okay with a cashew. When he started crying nearly as soon as he put it in his mouth I thought he just bit his lip. I went through the above scenario. He was 4. I avoid them now. Oh, and don’t think it’s just nuts, mangoes are in the same family. The oils in the mango skin are an irritant on him for this reason. I don’t ever want to have him go through that again. My point is that once you start reaching out to the masses it gets harder and harder to think of everything that can have a negative effect on your consumer. This is where standardization comes into play. This is where Health Inspectors come into play. Would you eat in a restaurant that didn’t pass it’s inspection? Why not? It just had a few pets of the owner laying on a bed by the cooler and their 5 year old kid “taste testing” the desserts on the tray before they came out to you. Unfortunately, not all business people will follow a procedure because it’s the right way to do things. “I don’t have to change, it’s not against the law.” is what I can imagine being said. So, no, the big bad government is not out there to stop you from having a cutesy farmer’s market stand with it’s mean ole ‘you have to make the stuff in a commercial kitchen’. You can have one. You just have to do it in a standardized safe manner in a proper establishment so you don’t make someone SICK or KILL them. Enjoy this article about food borne illnesses and the deaths, sickness, and hospitalizations caused by each at http://www.cdc.gov/Features/dsFoodborneEstimates/. How dare the government want to step in and try to prevent this from happening because we, as a people, have shown over and over again that we won’t do it ourselves. We are ignorant of the issues (I didn’t know that would make someone sick), blatantly disregarding the issue (eh, my family’s done it this way for 5 generations and none of us died), or aware of the issue and don’t care (so someone once in a while gets a tummy ache, big deal. Take a Tums.) You’ll want the government out until your family member dies. Anyone remember ChiChi’s? Green onions at ONE restaurant (I live near it and did eat there before) + largest hepatitis A outbreak in the country = 4 DEATHS AND 660 illnesses. They were in business since 1975 and that happened in 2003. So they had a good run. Okay, they were in bankruptcy, but they might have pulled out of that. They had before. Not after that though. Not in this country. So, go and break the law. That law was made to keep the man down. Keep those money-grubbing corporations in the black not to help protect the consumer. Sure, break the laws that you don’t like cause no one pays any attention anyways. Make money hedging your bets that you don’t make anyone sick. Hopefully you never will. God’ll understand that it was a silly government law that you broke not one of His. Oh wait, you just did. That sick person DIED. Thou Shall Not Kill. Sucks to be you. No, I am not perfect. No, I don’t think it’s possible to be perfect as we are humans. I don’t claim to be perfect. I know that I am not. I do know that I am not a person touting Catholic morals on the same page as I am writing about breaking the law. When did little white lies not count as a lie? A sin is a sin is a sin. Good night.


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