Local NewsViral Backlash Over Odessa Tamale Seizure Highlights State Cottage Laws

Thousands of commenters expressed their displeasure over the seizure of several dozen tamales from a roadside vendor that didn’t have the proper license.
September 21, 2022
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A social media post by Ector County health officials showing the seizure of tamales from an unlicensed roadside food vendor sparked backlash online, with thousands of comments and shares from people upset with the county for confiscating the product.

The photo, which showed dozens of seized tamales, included an explanation from the county health department that under state law, certain food products require licensing to prepare and sell. The Ector County Health Department Food Service claimed the seizure was done to prevent foodborne illness from spreading.

“Texas law (Texas Health and Safety Code 437.016) prohibits food sales from those who are not permitted from a restaurant or mobile food establishment,” the officials wrote. “On 9-8-2022, 25 dozen Tamales were seized from a street vendor’s vehicle and the vendor was issued a citation. All food items that are seized by the ECHD are documented and properly disposed of to prevent any food-borne illnesses.”

Social media commentators did not appear to accept that explanation, however, flooding the Ector County Health Department’s post with comments rebuffing the seizure. One person wrote, “[T]hat sounds like theft with extra steps,” while another said, “I do not approve of tax dollars being used this way.”

The viral post has been widely shared on multiple social media platforms and garnered statewide media attention.

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Ector County Health Officials were quoted speaking with KXAN News Austin stating that the people who received a citation for selling the tamales without the proper license are previous offenders. They added that the health department is willing to help anyone comply with the proper licensing requirements.

The county’s seizure of the tamales highlights what is known as state “cottage” laws, an exemption from licensing requirements to cook certain food products at home intended for public sale.

According to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), cottage food operators must place labels containing specific information regarding the food, including where it was made.  Profits from these operations are capped at $50,000 per year.

In addition, cottage food operators must complete an accredited course on proper food safety training.

Cottage food producers cannot sell Time/Temperature Control for Safety (TCS) foods, which include food products that can easily spread foodborne illness if not prepared properly.

Examples of TCS foods include meat products such as tamales, fish or shellfish, dairy products, and other foods that require refrigeration.

Some examples DHHS provides of foods cottage operators may sell include baked goods, candy, nuts, jam and jelly, fruit pie, cereal, popcorn, and pickled fruit or vegetables.

DHHS has an extensive webpage outlining cottage food production laws and requirements.

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Matt Stringer

Matt Stringer is a reporter for The Texan who writes about all things government, politics, and public policy in West Texas. He graduated summa cum laude from Odessa College with an Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies and is presently finishing a Bachelor’s Degree in Management and Leadership. In his free time, you will find him in the great outdoors, usually in the Davis Mountains and Big Bend region of Southwest Texas.

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