When we talk to cottage cooks about their businesses, many aren’t aware of the regulations and laws around cottage food. For instance, did you know that many states have specific guidelines around where you can sell the items produced in a home kitchen?
These are a few of the basic areas of cottage food law that you should familiarize yourself with as you start and grow your business.
In general, states limit the foods that can be sold by cottage cooks to “non-potentially hazardous foods.” What does that really mean, though?
Like many of the considerations listed below, the definition can vary by state. There seem to be a few common threads, though: most states allow cooks to sell low-acid fruit products (like jellies and jams), most baked goods, pickles, and other shelf-stable foods.
What’s not allowed? Most states forbid the sale of meat or dairy-based products. Products that require refrigeration can be difficult to squeeze into cottage food law definitions.
Before you set up a stand at a farmers’ market or start selling food on Instagram, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with your state’s regulations on cottage food sales venues. Your state may allow you to sell food at a market, but not online. States will clearly spell out the places you can sell home-prepared foods, including:
If a state law does not mention online sales, it doesn't mean that these types of sales are illegal. Cottage food producers should contact their local health authorities to determine whether online sales are permissible under the state law.
We’re making it easier for cottage cooks to start, build, and grow an independent, direct-to-consumer food business. To apply for beta access, visit www.castiron.me.
Did you know that in certain states, cottage food producers can only make sales up to a certain dollar amount? Not every state is like this, but in some states, the sales limit numbers can be surprisingly low. Sales limits don’t typically impact food entrepreneurs who are new to selling their products, but they may begin to impact your business down the line. Sales limits may encourage cottage cooks to eventually become licensed or move into commercial kitchens.
This chart from the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic shares some of the limits on sales imposed by states. (Make sure to confirm that the regulations for your state or county haven’t changed since this was published!)
Always remember, sales limits are based on the amount of money you collect from customers, not the amount of money you earn or pay yourself.
Nearly every state has specific requirements for food labeling, even for food produced in a home kitchen. Think about mass-produced food: what’s on its label? Much of the information included on a standard food label is included on cottage food labeling. Typically, cottage food labeling requirements include:
In Indiana, for example, food produced by cottage cooks must be labeled with the producer’s name and address, contact information, ingredients, and a disclaimer that the item was made in a home kitchen and has not been inspected by the department of health. Labeling requirements vary by state, so contact your local health department to ensure that your packaging includes the necessary information.
Not every state requires cottage cooks to be licensed. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, you should always check with your local health department to ensure that you’re properly licensed and registered. Some states, like Maryland and Alaska, don’t require cottage cooks to be licensed at all.
On the other hand, some states require cottage cooks to carry several permits, including food handler permits and the appropriate kitchen or business registrations. California and Utah cottage food laws fall into this category.
These registrations also usually come with a fee, which may range from $20 to a few hundred dollars. In some states, it’s just a matter of applying for a business license, while in others, you must undergo a formal kitchen inspection.
Do you have questions about cottage food laws and regulations? Connect with other cottage food producers and food entrepreneurs just like you in the Kitchen, our online community of cottage cooks.