January 29, 2021

How to Get Started Selling Food From Home Legally

You’ve mastered your cinnamon roll recipe and your friends have started asking when they’ll be able to buy them from you by the dozen. That seems simple enough, right? When you expand beyond cooking for your close friends and family, you’ll see that selling food from home isn’t as straightforward as previously thought. 

Licenses, permits, pH levels, commercial kitchens, taxes, and inspections are just some of the items you’ll need to take into consideration as you build and grow your food business. 

Dig in some more, and you might feel overwhelmed by the amount of variance in cottage food laws. Some states only allow home cooks to sell their products at certain venues, like farmers’ markets or roadside stands, while others have strict regulations on licensing and kitchen inspections. If your head is spinning just thinking about selling food from home legally, keep reading. 

Where to Find Cottage Food Laws

If you want to be a legal cottage food operator in the United States, you need to understand your state and your county’s cottage food laws and regulations. What is a cottage food law? Cottage food laws provide guidance for cooks, outlining the certain types of food that they can make in their home kitchen and then sell at specific venues. 

It’s important to familiarize yourself with local laws on selling food from home. Some states don’t allow cottage food operations at all, including New Jersey and Kentucky. In New Jersey, cooks who are caught selling food that was prepared in their home kitchens can incur a $1,000 fine. 

You can find information on your state’s cottage food laws across the web, but it’s always a good idea to check with local officials to ensure that you have the most up-to-date information on cottage food laws in your state. Your county’s health department can provide the guidance and documentation needed for you to operate legally from your home kitchen. 

Do I Need a Permit to Sell Food From Home? 

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, permitting regulations can vary by county in a state, and they most certainly differ from state to state. Most states require that home cooks undergo a kitchen inspection and that they obtain a business license. Not all states require businesses to be licensed though, especially if they are a one-person operation. 

Some states require that cottage cooks pass a safety certification to ensure that they have a proper understanding of food safety and storage. Your state may also have rules about who you can sell your products to — most only allow you to sell to individuals, not stores or restaurants for wholesaling. Many states prohibit out-of-state cottage food sales. 

How to Get a Food License to Sell From Home

You’re ready to start selling your homemade food — great! To get started, visit your local health government’s website to find information about the licenses and permits you need to operate legally. These may include things like: 

  • Business licenses
  • Food handler’s licenses
  • Business registration
  • Sales licenses
  • Zoning permits

In addition to paperwork, you’ll likely need to schedule a kitchen inspection, especially if you’re cooking from home and not from a commercial kitchen. If you live in a townhouse or condominium, don’t forget to check your HOA’s rules about operating a business from your home. 

Entrepreneurship can be tough — there’s no doubt about it. Building a business around your passion of making and sharing food is worth the effort, though. If you’re building a homemade food business, we can help you. Castiron is a platform that helps cooks, bakers, and food artisans build and grow their businesses. If you’d like to help us test our platform and provide feedback, apply to join our beta cohort.

Ditch the complex order tracking spreadsheets and late night texts from your customers. The Castiron platform is purpose-built to help food artisans build and grow their businesses online. We're accepting new beta users — if you're interested, schedule an onboarding session below. We'll show you how to use Castiron, answer your questions, and get you set up with your free store in 30 minutes or less.
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