Your cottage industry law questions, answered

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Cottage Industry Laws

The term "cottage industry" refers to any business or individual who produces goods or sells services within their own home. Thus, the answer to what is considered cottage food, would be any food that is produced in a private individual's own home. For example, a jam made in one's own home from either ingredients grown in their home or bought elsewhere would be considered cottage food. 

The cottage food industry is an important part of American culture as entrepreneurs and bootstrapping have long been core values held by this country. However, it's important for people to be able to pursue their passions and wealth without putting others at risk. This is why every state will have cottage industry laws.

Cottage industry laws make sure that individuals making and selling food from their homes have to go through an established process in order to get a cottage food permit or cottage food license. The process for a cottage food permit or cottage food license ensures that the individual understands all the necessary health and safety procedures. This keeps consumers safe and offers entrepreneurs the ability to succeed without excessive risks. 

Cottage Law

Each state will have its own variations of cottage law -- starting a food business in Georgia will be different than navigating the cottage food law Florida sales tax, for example -- but there are some common pillars among all states. In general, those looking to get approved as a Cottage Food Kitchen can expect to the following basic regulations or requirements:

  • Some type of initial kitchen inspection for immediate approval of the cottage food license application and then regular inspections thereafter, such as annually
  • Permitting from the local zoning department, department of health, and/or department of agriculture
  • Basic business license that includes a tax ID number
  • Certain stipulations, such as no pets allowed in the kitchen (some strict counties may require no pets in the home at all)

When researching what cottage laws are applicable for you, start with your county and then go to state. In general, county ordinances will be stricter than state and so by following county procedures first, you'll often save a lot of time. Also, make sure you're looking at every aspect of your business. For example, to enjoy best selling cottage foods across the Mid-Atlantic, states will often require sellers to follow strict New York state food truck laws as well as in-house cottage kitchen laws. 

Cottage Food Laws By State

While we don't have space to go over all the cottage food laws by state, or even to hit every one of the fifty states, we do want to explore some of the most important cottage food laws foodie entrepreneurs should be aware of. Understanding the following big state laws around things like licensing requirements and allowed food will help inform you of the general path you need to go regardless of where you live. 

Cottage Food Laws Florida 

Selling food from home in Florida has gotten more attractive in recent years as a 2017 amendment to the cottage law Florida increased the allowed annual gross sales of cottage food from $15,000 to $50,000. That was a huge increase and thereby allowed more people to profitably join the cottage industry. 

The second big hurdle involves the question of do you need a license to sell food in Florida. The answer is, it depends. Food operations that do not need permits Florida is any seller that sells directly to the consumer or very specific event venue. In other words, you do not need to apply for a food permit so long as you don't try to sell to a middleman, such as a grocery store chain. If you do choose to sell to a middleman, you will need to undergo permitting and have a Florida cottage food label template on each processed food item. Some home-based processed products will be prohibited from ever being sold to a third-party distributor and so it's important to lookup local laws before investing in a home kitchen set-up, such as the Florida cottage food law hot sauce. 

Cottage Food Laws California

When looking at the cottage food law California list, the most important thing to follow is the California Homemade Food Act. Passed in 2012, the California Homemade Food Act lists what foods can be sold and outlines the process for which "Class B" operations can apply for cottage food license California. This permit allows cottage food sellers to sell to third-party operators (food operations that do not need permits in California include any operation selling directly to consumers).

Unfortunately, the California Homemade Food Act, while allowing a pretty broad spectrum of products, has not approved selling fermented foods California. If you live in a populous city, check also with local ordinances, such as obtaining a cottage food license Los Angeles.

Cottage Food Law Georgia

Georgia is a bit stricter than other states in that every Cottage Food Operator, regardless of who they sell to, must complete an American National Standards Institute accredited food safety program to be approved via the Georgia Cottage Food Law application and get a Georgia food service permit. The approved Georgia cottage food list also excludes any non-potentially hazardous foods (such as fermented foods for fear of botulism). The strictness of Georgia state laws led to many in farm-based communities petitioning for their own local laws, such as a Gwinnett County Cottage Food Law.

Virginia Cottage Food Laws

There have been recent legislative attempts to expand existing Virginia food laws to prevent any type of cottage food licensing or inspection, but they have been unsuccessful. Today, most cottage food sellers in Virginia will need to undergo an inspection and licensure by the state agriculture department. 

North Carolina Cottage Food Laws

North Carolina has no specific laws for selling homegrown and homemade foods and must instead follow the state's Food and Drug Protection Division specifications. 

Louisiana Cottage Food Laws

Louisiana has also tried to expand home-based food producers with an exciting Louisiana Cottage Food Law 2020 that would make it easier for cooks and bakers to sell their goods with minimal hassle. That law is still being debated. 

Cottage Food Law Wisconsin

Selling cottage food used to be punishable with hefty fines and even potential jail time in Wisconsin, but recent court rulings have changed all that. Today, home bakers can sell any good that does not require refrigeration directly to consumers without first obtaining licensing. Those who need refrigeration can go through basic licensing and permitting requirements to be accessible via cottage food law in Wisconsin. 

Texas Cottage Food Law

The Texas cottage law food list and stipulations are similar to Wisconsin in regards to regulations depending on refrigeration. There is also an exciting Texas cottage law 2020 that will expand food operations, but that process is ongoing. 

Massachusetts Cottage Food Laws

Massachusetts food service laws and are pretty strict. All kitchens will require permitting and inspection, so yes, you do need a retail residential kitchen permit in Massachusetts that will require you to meet similar Massachusetts commercial kitchen requirements. That said, once approved, you can more easily obtain a wholesale food license Massachusetts, which tends to require more hurdles in other states. 

In order to get a food permit Massachusetts, you will also have to follow the list of approved cottage food products Massachusetts. This means no potentially hazardous foods (and no perishable foods requiring refrigeration). Thus, it may be easier to look for how to start a home catering business in Massachusetts over how to start a home bakery in Massachusetts. 

Cottage Food Laws NY

The cottage food law NY is similar to the cottage food law NJ in that all items must be sold directly to consumers and must be pre-packed in the home with the correct labels. To obtain a home bakery license NY, you will need to meet requirements similar to NYS commercial kitchen requirements and follow NYS department of health food service regulations. You will have the most success if you go ahead and obtain a New York state food license, although certain counties are exempt from doing so. These regulations are also the same if you are looking for how to start a home-based catering business in New York. Commercial kitchens will also have to follow the article 20-c food processing license in New York in order to sell perishable goods. 

Food Operations That Do Not Need Permits

As you can see from the above run-down, some states (Georgia and California) have significantly more restrictions and permitting requirements on the books than other states (North Carolina and Virginia). As such, it is incredibly important to check your local laws before selling any food from your home. Remember, in Wisconsin, those in the cottage food industry had to file a lawsuit to expand their rights, previously facing $1,000 fines and six months in jail as the penalty for selling food without a permit.

In general, however, a good rule of thumb is the simpler your product is, the more likely you'll fit into food operations that do not need permits in NC and elsewhere. Let's answer some other common questions:

  • Do I need a food permit to sell tea? If you are packaging your own loose leaf tea for sale, then yes you will need a food permit and typically FDA approval.
  • Do you need a permit to give away free food? Technically, yes. Most states don't allow the making of home-cooked meals for giveaway to the general public. But this isn't true everywhere. Check your local ordinances to be sure. 
  • Do I need a food permit to sell coffee? Depends. If you are selling hot coffee or unprepared coffee beans, then generally no. If you are preparing hot drinks with fresh milk, then yes because of food safety guidelines involving milk. 

Finally, when asking "do I need a license to sell homemade food?," while we hope this guide has offered a good overview of what to expect, we recommend always doing your due diligence and checking local county and state laws.

Additional Resources

Cottage Food Law Michigan | Cottage Food Law Wisconsin | Cottage Food Laws Florida | Cottage Food License | Cottage Food Sales Tax | Cottage Industry Laws | Home Food Laws | Laws About Selling Homemade Food | Laws on Selling Food From Home | License to Cook and Sell Food From Home | Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations | Permit to Sell Food From Home | Permit to Sell Food From Home California | Rules for Selling Food From Home


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