Mothers selling Christmas cookies from their homes, pep club members peddling pizzas and youngsters hustling lemonade are likely breaking the law.

Both Utah and Salt Lake City-County health department rules and regulations prohibit the storage and preparation of food in a home for commercial use.But the rule, health officials acknowledge, is nevertheless broken time and time again - especially during the summer and holiday season. In fact, recently the Bureau of Food Protection received reports of illnesses associated with food items catered from private homes.

"Just before Christmas people are trying to make a little extra money and so they are catering food," said James Currie, bureau area supervisor.

During the summer months, church and civic organizations also increase fund-raising efforts to support welfare programs and such activities as Scouting events.

Currie said if group members purchase and eat the homemade goods, they are in compliance with the law. But they are in violation if the food is sold to the public, which the health department has the duty to protect.

"Sixty to 70 percent of food-borne diseases originate in private homes," Currie said. "Each one of us lives in our own environment, and our bodies adapt to the bacteria we live with.

"It's when we go out of our own environment and enter another one with different bacteria that we become sick. By cooking food at home, and possibly contaminating it, we may have crossed that barrier."

The state food code, enforced by county health departments, says "food for commercial use shall not be stored or prepared in a private home or residence. Home-canned or home-prepared food is prohibited." All food must be prepared and stored in facilities that can be inspected and that meet minimum requirements.

"That means anytime you sell food from an unapproved establishment for profit, you are breaking the law," the health department official said.

But Currie said the regulation shouldn't be interpreted as meaning the health department is against people selling food or making money.

"We just don't want people making other people sick," Currie said.

The health department recommends that customers, before contracting with a food caterer, make certain the caterer is licensed, has been inspected and has a permit from the health department.

Private citizens who want to sell food commercially must contact the local health department in their area for a temporary permit.