Cupcakes Worth Fighting For:Young Baker Could Get State Law Changed

By Suzanne Boyle
Belleville News-Democrat.

Tentative plans are in the works to build a commercial kitchen for the young Troy girl who had to stop baking and selling cupcakes out of her home because of state health regulations.

Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons mentioned the plans at a county Health Department committee meeting Wednesday.

“I believe they will have a kitchen added onto her home,” Gibbons said at the meeting in Wood River.

Sixth-grader Chloe Stirling had worked out of her family’s kitchen for two years. Last month, the county shut her down, saying the kitchen didn’t meet the state standards of a commercial one, which included not having a permit, not taking the mandatory health safety course and not being inspected.

The only recourse was to build a separate kitchen that met state regulations, or work out of a certified space somewhere else.
Heather Stirling, Chloe’s mother, said Wednesday that those plans are vague at the moment.

“I’m not sure what’s going to happen. There’s not a clear answer. Yes, there are some donations, but we haven’t even thought through it all.”

Gibbons, two members of the county health department and Jason Spengler, a friend of the family, met Monday at the Stirling home to see if a way could be devised to help Chloe get back to baking.

The health department “didn’t give me any options that would help; the parameters are the same,” Stirling said. “I think they came over to our house just to say that they came.”

She also said that changing a state law so Chloe could bake in her family kitchen and sell cupcakes wasn’t really a viable option.

State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, has talked about an amendment to a state food regulation act that would let home cooks produce goods in their kitchens and sell them to the public.

In defense of the state’s regulations regarding food safety, the county’s public health administrator, Toni Corona, said, “We have excellent laws on the books.”

Gibbons told the committee Wednesday he would seek to amend the Illinois Cottage Food Operation Act, which allows baking and making certain food items in a home kitchen to sell to the public. But the law also states that “the food is to be sold at a farmers market.” It went into effect in January 2012.

“This is a simple solution. I want to add eight words: ‘or in the home where it is prepared,'” Gibbons said. “It would keep the process in place, but allow people to do the work out of their own home” and sell year-round without the many restrictions required for a commercial kitchen.

Committee member Lisa Ciampoli said she was looking at changes with an open mind.

“I think we can always improve; I’m willing to take a look at it,” she said.

This would suit Chloe’s situation, but “It can take up to three years to change a law, I’m told,” Stirling said. “And even then it might not happen. That won’t help her now.”

The response to the young entrepreneur’s plight has resonated nationwide since a story was first published in the News-Democrat’s BND magazine Jan. 26 about the young entrepreneur. But at home, the Stirlings aren’t sure what they will do. Chad Stirling, Chloe’s father, is a plumber with Spengler Plumbing in O’Fallon. Owner Jason Spengler said Wednesday that his company considers the Stirlings to be family and he wants to help.

“I told Heather, ‘We’re going to do this. I don’t know how, but we’re going to do this,” Spengler said Wednesday. “But, we’re not going to do anything without first sitting down with Heather and Chad and Chloe and seeing what they want.”

Just how an addition to a home that involves a commercial kitchen will come to fruition is still up in the air, though a phone call Wednesday afternoon to Spengler Plumbing might be the spark to ignite the plan.

“I got a call from someone who got wind that I was going to do something,” Spengler said. “It was someone I didn’t know. It could be a pretty significant donation, if it happens. We’ll have to see if they step up to help.”

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