Sell Homemade Food Online

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How To Sell Homemade Food Legally

The number of cottage food businesses in the United States have exploded in recent years. US sales from this type of business topped $200 million last year. The appeal is undeniable. With a cottage food business, you can work from your home, doing something you love and share your culinary skill and knowledge with customers. If you've been considering getting into this business, you've undoubtedly wondered how to sell homemade food legally.

There are a number of laws and regulations about how to sell from home legally. Currently, 49 states and the District of Columbia have so-called "cottage food" laws. (New Jersey is the only exception.) These laws pertain to homemade food that is deemed to be non-hazardous. Cottage foods include breads, most baked goods, jams, jellies, candy and fruit butters. Some states also include things like dry pasta, dry baking mixes, vinegars and mustards. As a reference, take a look at the list of foods the State of California classifies as cottage foods.

Many states significantly expanded their cottage foods laws in the last few years. For example, the State of Florida passed legislation in 2017 that "increased the annual gross sales limitation for exempting cottage food operations from certain food & building permitting requirements; authorized certain advertisement & sale of, & payment for, cottage food products and prohibited certain delivery methods for cottage food products.

Twenty-one US states allow homemade cottage foods to be sold in grocery stores, including California, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maine. In other states, homemade food businesses can only sell directly to consumers.

Since each state looks at this issue somewhat differently, it's essential that you visit your state's website to view their current cottage food laws during the early planning stages of your business.

Permit To Sell Food From Home

Following your state's regulations regarding commercial foods produced at home is only part of what you need to do before you open your cottage food business. If you're wondering "do I need a license to sell homemade food", the answer is probably, but it depends on your state. Below is a list of the permits and licenses that you may need for your food business

  • Business license. Most US states require that you get a business license to operate any type of business, including a food business. For example, you need a permit to sell food from home in Arizona and New York. Even if your state doesn't require that you get a business license, your county or your city may require one.
  • Sales privilege license (aka sales tax license). Most states require this license from businesses that sell retail goods and, thus, must collect sales tax. Most food items are exempt from state sales tax. However, many states still require that you obtain the license.
  • Food handler's license. This is an individual license, not a business license and each person who handles food in your business must pass a test about food safety and proper handling.
  • Some type of kitchen inspection. Every state requires that the kitchen where you make your cottage food items be inspected. However, every state goes about it somewhat differently. Common themes include no pets allowed in the kitchen area, adequate refrigeration and acceptable counter and flooring materials (e.g. no butcher block counters or carpeted floors).
  • Zoning permit. In many areas, you'll also need a variance or a permit from the local zoning board to operate a business from your home. Your homeowner's or condo association may also have an issue with your cottage food business. It's best to get approval from them before you start cooking.

Frequently asked questions about cottage food businesses

1. How to get license to sell food?

If you live in one of the 26 states that requires a license to have a cottage food business, you need to apply to your state's Department of Agriculture or Secretary of State's office.

2. Do I need a license to sell food from my home in Florida?

You do not need a permit to sell food from home in Florida. Florida is one of the states that do not require a food license for cottage food operations nor do they require a kitchen inspection. However, some local governments have enacted ordinances restricting a cottage food operation in a personal residence. It's a good idea to check with the local zoning agency regarding their home business requirements in your part of Florida.

3. What are some food operations that do not need permits?

Food operations that sell so-called cottage foods do not need a permit in many states. However, each state defines "cottage food" somewhat differently. In general, this term includes most baked goods (expect those that include cream), pastas, breads, dry mixes and vinegars.

4. Do I need a permit to sell food from home in Texas?

Texas is another state that doesn't require a special license or permit to sell cottage food items from your home. However, they do have regulations about labeling and restrictions on how much you sell each year without having to get a permit. It's wise to check with the Texas Department of Agriculture to make sure your product is included in the state's cottage food description and make sure you follow all the labeling and other rules.

6. Do I need a permit to sell food from home in California?

If you're wondering do I need a license to sell homemade food in California, the answer is yes. Unlike Florida and Texas, no DO need a permit to sell homemade food in the Golden State.

5. Do you know how to get a permit to sell food on the street?

Selling food as a street vendor is different from selling food from your home. In most states, you need to get a food vendor's license from your state's department of health. In addition, many states, counties and cities require that you obtain a street vendor's permit.

8. Do you need a license to sell baked goods from home?

Most baked good fall under the cottage food label. About half of US states require a license to sell these types of foods from home. Cottage foods do not include baked goods that contain cream, such as cream pies, cream-filled doughnuts and whoopie pies.

9. How do I get a permit for my home food business?

If you're wondering how to get a permit to sell food from home, you need to look at your state's website. In most cases, the state department of agriculture handles this area.

How To Sell Homemade Food Online

Once you've researched the rules and obtained the necessary licenses and permits, if applicable, it's time to start selling your homemade food online. There are a variety of ways to connect with your customers.

  • Your own website. One of the easiest ways to sell your homemade food products online is to create a website and process orders via the site. However, this requires people being able to find your website, something that can be challenging amid the sea of other websites vying for your customers’ attention.
  • Social media platforms. Facebook allows users to sell food via its marketplace groups and other functions as long as the products follow the state, county and city cottage food laws where they are produced.
  • Community marketing co-ops. In many areas, there are food marketing co-ops that market directly to consumers and coordinate deliveries of food items from a variety of vendors. One such organization is Market Wagon. They approve vendors, so consumers know they are dealing with quality food sellers. For vendors, they handle delivery, marketing and payments, all for a percentage of sales.
  • Third party websites. Another way to proceed if you're wondering how to sell homemade snacks online is to turn to third party websites, such as eBay or Etsy, that already have a trusted reputation with your potential customers. Both websites allow sales of food items as long as they follow the cottage food laws where the items are produced. Since these sites can attract buyers from all over the country (and the world), these sites are best for items with a long shelf life, such as vinegars, dry mixes and pickles.

Some decisions you'll need to make when you start figuring out how to start online food business from home include how you're going to get your products to your customers. Are they going to pick them up from your front porch? Are you going to deliver them? Or, are you going to have them available at a third location, such as a weekly farmers' market? In addition to delivery, you'll need to create labels for each of your products that follow your state and city rules. Marketing is essential to creating a profitable home food business. Sit down and brainstorm about how you're going to get the word out to potential customers about your new venture.

To learn more about how to sell home cooked food online, and how our food business software can help you track your sales and be profitable, visit castiron.me.

Additional Resources

Customer Communication | Food Photography | How to Make Money Baking Cakes From Home | How to Price a Product | How to Promote a Home Baking Business | How to Sell Baked Goods From Your Home | How to Sell Home Cooked Food Online | How to Sell Homemade Food | Starting a Food Business Checklist

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