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If you're handy in the kitchen, it's probably occurred to you that you could sell homemade foods. Well, you're right. You can. However, since we can't have just anyone slapping together just anything, calling it food, and charging hungry people for the privilege of enjoying your food, we have laws about selling homemade food. While the founding fathers would probably frown on the regulation of homemade edible goods for sale, anyone who's ever had food poisoning will understand why you need a license to sell food from home.
The good news is that, while it does involve a great deal of work, you'll find that completing your cottage food license application and selling homemade food online legally is a fairly straightforward process. Here, we will briefly describe the process and cover some of the laws in a handful of states that are representative of the laws most US states employ to protect the public from unvetted commercial chefs.
Most US states regulate the practice of selling food out of your home, whether you connect to your buying demographic online or if you just sell baked goods to your neighbors. If you live in Delaware, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, New Jersey, or West Virginia, as of 2020, you may find the laws and regulations are lax, lacking, or nonexistent. That does not mean that you should not look into local rules and regulations if you live in any of these states. The laws regulating this kind of commerce are always in flux. What was legal last month in your area may be illegal today. So you need to do your own research.
Setting up your cottage food business will take some time. You will need to know how long it takes to get a cottage food license so that you can create a budget and a schedule for getting all of your prerequisites in order.
The basic requirements from state to state will look approximately like this;
These requirements are going to be pretty consistent from state to state. You'll remember we listed Delaware as one of the states that haven't got many cottage food laws to speak of. However, in certain areas, it is a practical necessity to have a food handler's card, while in other areas it is an absolute necessity.
The following are brief summaries of the cottage food laws in states that are good representatives of what you'll need to look for in just about any location in the United States.
The cottage food laws in The Sunshine State are designed to offer some of the best features available to entrepreneurs interested in the cottage food industry. The state of Florida tries to make it as easy as possible without exposing the public to too great a risk of unscrupulous sellers. To learn more, start here.
The cottage food laws in Michigan are relatively permissive, but they encourage would-be sellers to expand into a fully-fledged retail establishment before pursuing a cottage food business. They do this by capping the annual amount you're allowed to earn by selling homemade foods. To learn more, check here.
Illinois cottage food laws are some of the most particular. According to CottageFoodLaws.com, licensed entrepreneurs in Illinois are only permitted to make and sell foods that are considered to be “non-potentially hazardous.” To learn more about cottage food laws in Illinois, check here.
As you can imagine, that list will tend to be pretty arbitrary. After all, any food can be potentially hazardous. Anyone could be allergic to any given food item or any ingredient. Occurrences of food poisoning after eating at a restaurant is a fairly common event, about as common as automobile accidents. So it's hard to imagine that a ban on “non-potentially hazardous” items can even be enforceable.
But this is a prime example of why it's necessary to check your local rules and regulations soon and frequently as you move into this field. By and large, if you stick to the bulleted list above, you'll be good as gold. Just remember to stay abreast of local laws to avoid a penalty for selling food without a permit. It's also a good idea to follow cottage food laws by state since some states tend to imitate the regulatory patterns of others.
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