Number of illegal home restaurants in Rantoul increases

In some cities, home-based restaurants are legal. But Rantoul ordinance and Champaign County Public Health Department regulations forbid it here.

 RANTOUL — People who prepare food in their home for family or friends are fine. But those who do so to sell it to the general public will get a letter from the village of Rantoul and Champaign County informing them they are breaking the law.

“Typically, we receive an anonymous phone call or find information on a Facebook posting,” said Scott Morgan, Rantoul building safety manager, on how the village becomes aware of the home-based food establishments.

Morgan said the village works with the county health department, which sends a letter to the address. The village follows up with a letter to the property owner, providing information about home occupations and zoning ordinances.

He said the number of violations has increased in recent years.

A commercial-style kitchen with the intention of selling food from a home is not allowed in a residential district. Commercial kitchens and appliances are allowed in commercial districts and are inspeted under the National Fire Protection Association and International Fire Code regulations.

“My concern with restaurant-type food being prepared at high volume in a residential kitchen would be fire safety,” Morgan said.  

He said many types of home-based businesses are generally not a problem and said village staff will be meeting with legal council to review the home occupation ordinance.

“At this time we are uncertain if there will be any changes made to the ordinance,” he said.

Morgan said the issue isn’t just sanitation.

“Some people have complained about vehicle and foot traffic,” he said.

“The majority of calls that I get are for ... restaurant-type food. One of the homeowners was trying to sell candy out of their home,” Morgan said.

He said the problem has gotten worse in recent years. He estimated the village dealt with “half a dozen” complaints last year.

Jim Roberts, director of environmental health for the Champaign County Public Health Department, said home-based restaurants are a violation of the Champaign County Retail Food Program Ordinance.

He said since Dec. 1, he has received three Rantoul-based cases with which he has had to deal. The numbers seem to be cyclical. He might not get any complaints for a while and then have to deal with several in a short span. And it’s not just Rantoul. It happens throughout the county.

Roberts said the county finds out about the home-based restaurants in different ways — public tips or social media, and on occasion when dealing with a case, the offender will tell them about another one in town.

If the offenders cease their operations, the issue is dropped. Roberts said that’s what usually happens. But if the violator refuses, the issue will be sent to the state’s attorney.

In addition to a candy-maker, the offenders have included bakeries and one that sold a full menu, including soup of the day, chicken, pork and bread.

“They can’t operate a food establishment without a valid permit, and food prepared in a home kitchen is not acceptable,” Roberts said. “We tell them to cease immediately, and if they wish to get a health permit to contact our office and we will help them.”

Food can be sold out of a residence, he said, but it must be prepared out of a certified kitchen and then brought to the home. Home-based kitchens don’t qualify.

Roberts said he thinks many people are under the impression if they have a food-handlers certificate or a certified food-protection manager’s certificate that they can operate a home-based restaurant.

When notified they are violating the law, “Most people didn’t realize what the requirements were, so they understand and they cease to have that kind of operation.”

Roberts said in dealing with these cases, he also informs the village administrator and mayor. In some cases, zoning issues might come into play as well.