Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Street tamale sales to be legal in Arizona

A man assembles tamales in his kitchen.
Lauren Rock/NPR
A man assembles tamales in his kitchen.

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- Sometime this summer, something already occurring on Arizona streets will be legal.
And that is the sale of home-made tamales and certain other items classified as "cottage food products.''
With no explanation, Gov. Katie Hobbs on Friday penned her approval to the legislation. That means it will take effect 90 days after lawmakers finally go home for the year, a date that, for the moment, remains unclear.
But it took until now to come up with a plan that the governor found acceptable.
She had vetoed an earlier version last year despite its widespread -- and bipartisan -- support. And her comments had angered some Hispanic lawmakers and even led to the risk of a veto override, the first in more than four decades.
So what changed?
Not much according to Rep. Travis Grantham, the Gilbert Republican who sponsored both versions, saying "99% of this is version 2.0.''
Lawmakers did add language to include a definition of a "home kitchen.'' What makes that important is that the size is limited to 1,000 square feet, a move designed to preclude large commercial operations from claiming that they, too, are exempt from the health regulations that apply to restaurants and other food-preparation services.
And the labeling requirements that already were in the 2023 version were beefed up. Now, that includes not just a list of ingredients and the name of the person preparing the food -- all in the earlier bill vetoed by Hobbs -- but also a disclaimer that the item may have been prepared in a kitchen that could have allergens, including pet allergens.
Part of what's different, said Grantham, is that the Arizona Restaurant Association was no longer opposed.
"For some reason, that seems to be making a difference,'' he said.
Dan Bogert, the association's lobbyist, said that new definition of a home kitchen was crucial.
"There were some things in last year's bill that created the possibility of a commercial loophole,'' he said.
But Grantham said the big change may be political on the part of the governor.
"I think she made a mistake last year,'' he said.
"And I think she knows it,'' Grantham continued. "But she won't admit that.''
The governor, for her part, dodged a question of whether she stumbled last year with her veto.
"I am not going to dwell on the past,'' she said.
But that "past'' ruffled more than a few feathers.
Arizona first approved the sale of what are known as "cottage'' foods in 2011. The law allowed people to make baked and confectionery foods at home and sell them as long as they did not facilitate the growth of bacteria.
Former state Health Director Will Humble said that is what Arizonans see at farmers' markets, where breads, sweets, fruits, jams and jellies, along with other items can be openly sold.
What the original 2023 bill sought to do was expand the list to include certain cooked foods -- like tamales.
There were built-in safeguards.
For example, the bill excluded the sale of drinks, fish and shellfish products. Meat products would have to come from an inspected source in accordance with federal regulations.
There also were requirements on foods to ensure they were cooked and maintained at the right temperature, could not be transported for more than two hours, and could not be transported more than once.
It added some requirements, like anyone doing home cooking to complete food handler classes and maintain active certification. It also would have required the seller to register with the Arizona Department of Health Services.
And it also included full disclosure on the label, from the name and registration number of the food prepared to a statement saying, "This product was produced in a home kitchen that may process common food allergens and is not subject to public health inspection.''
Hobbs was unconvinced.
"It fails to establish sufficient minimum standards for inspection or certification of home-based business, and could limit the ability to ADHS to investgiate food-borne disease out breaks,'' the governor wrote in her 2023 veto message.
But she drew particular ire over her comment that the law would open the door to items being cooked in home kitchens with "rodent or insect infestation.''
"That is offensive,'' said Sen. Alma Hernandez, D-Tucson, a major proponent of the legislation. "And I would be glad to put my nana's kitchen or my mom's kitchen up against anyone's kitchen.''
Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, whose mother and grandmother are Mexican immigrants, took it a step farther.
"Not only was the veto outrageous, but to continue to push racial tropes of homes riddled with insect or rodent infestation, it will just not be tolerated in the year 2023,'' he said.
About the closest Hobbs has come to acknowledging she may have stumbled was in an interview with Capitol Media Services last year about her first year in office.
"We were in the process of building our legislative team,'' she said, referring to the staffers who are supposed to work with lawmakers.
"We need to have more focus on the ground there,'' Hobbs said. "And we're going to do that next time.''
On X and Threads: @azcapmedia