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In Indiana, cottage food laws determine what kinds of foods people are allowed to cook in their own homes to sell to other people. In general, these laws apply to a specific list of foods. All of the foods adhere to certain restrictions in acidity and water content levels. The idea being that foods that are generally harder to spoil are safe enough to undergo this less-regulated classification.
The foods that specifically fall under cottage food classifications in Indiana include baked goods, candy, produce, nuts and legumes, hone, molasses, syrup, jams, jellies and dried goods.
When considering cottage food laws, it also helps to understand what does not qualify as such in the state of Indiana. Foods that are not under cottage classifications are numerous. The most notable include pickled foods, meat, aquatic animal products, dairy, eggs, noodles, reduced oxygen packaging, canned goods, cut melons, raw seed sprouts, garlic in oil mixtures and cut tomatoes or leafy greens — such as those found in prepared salads.
The rules governing home based food vendors in Indiana are basic but restrictive. There are no licenses required to produce these foods for sale. There are also no revenue restrictions on how much you can sell from your home kitchen (which is common in many other states). Despite that, sales themselves are heavily restricted. Cottage foods can only be sold at official farmers markets and roadside food stands. You cannot sell directly from your home. Home food vendors are often reclassified as roadside produce stand supplies providers.
Additionally, all foods have to be labeled in accordance with Indiana regulations. This typically includes a list of ingredients and a formal name for the specific food being sold (i.e. nuts cannot be sold as fruits). It also means that food transactions will be governed by Indiana farmers market laws or roadside stand laws in Indiana.
Considering how food health and safety regulations work in the state, the concept of cottage food licenses in Indiana seems simpler in principle than it is in execution. If you stick entirely to the pre-approved list of foods, no licensing is necessary at all. There is no formal state inspection process. You can sell the foods without limit. That said, you will still be liable for any food-related illnesses or harms that can be traced back to your food sales.
Things become much more complicated when you step into the realm of foods that are not on the cottage list. For anything not on the list, everything is regulated through commercial food production and licensing. Even if you cook from home, producing meat products will land you under the purview of commercial foods. In other words, there is no Indiana home bakery license that makes it easy to sell some foods. Instead, when you want to know how to get a permit to sell food from home, you have to enter the realm of commercial food production. The kitchen requirements for home baking businesses are the same as the requirements for commercial bakeries.
In order to get a license for this type of food production, the requirements are stiff. The kitchen has to be registered with the state and undergo state-approved inspections. These inspections ensure that the kitchen and workspace are up to health code standards. That can include simple things like an absence of animals in the building. It also includes more complicated topics like keeping refrigerated items to specific temperature ranges.
If you can meet all of the requirements, it is possible to get a home kitchen approved for commercial applications. All food cooked in the home will be subject to the same rules as any other commercial kitchen in the state. This applies to food safety, allowable foods, revenue limits and everything else in this classification.
If you cannot meet all of the requirements, it is still possible to sell your home cooking to the public, but it requires the knowledge of how to get around cottage food laws. The easiest thing to do (which is not necessarily easy) is to partner with a commercial food co-packer. This would be a business with an active food handlers permit. In this instance, you would come up with the recipes and the production methods, but the co-packer would technically make the food. This would allow you to operate under their food safety certification for Indiana, and your kitchen would not have to undergo special inspections or licensing or have a food handlers license for Indiana. But, with this method, you cannot directly produce the food that is sold, as per Indiana home based vendor law.
Similarly, you can try to sell your recipes to established food producers. Whether you work with commercial packers or traditional restaurants, the idea is to sell the concept of your food rather than the food itself.
If your desire is to sell food that you prepared directly, the only options are to stick to the cottage food list or undergo commercial certification. You cannot get a permit to sell food from home without going the commercial route.
In Indiana, all cottage food businesses are regulated by the State Department of Health. There is a Food Safety department that caters to cottage food and its applications and handles Indiana health department guidelines for these applications. This division is where you will find the specifics of every rule governing cottage food production and sales as outlined by the board of health food safety.
The food itself is lightly regulated by the department. As long as it falls under the pre-listed classifications, it is legal to sell the food. This is any food that is of the right pH level and water content and has not undergone a treatment process to reach those requirements. As an example, you can sell nuts that are naturally dry, but dehydrated meats are not cottage foods in Indiana. Selling vegetables in Indiana is typically acceptable by these rules.
The greater regulations all pertain to the sale of cottage foods. The production is far less important to the state than how you sell them. This is uncommon when compared to other states but important to understand for home-based food companies in Indiana.
What matters most is that the food is sold at officially recognized venues. These are farmers markets and roadside food stands (ic 16-42-5-29). Cottage food cannot be sold at any other venues, including special events.
The rationale behind this Indiana food code regulation is that the Food Safety department can more easily identify and access cottage foods at these locations in order to ensure that food safety is living up the standards and expectations of the people of Indiana.
Another main takeaway is that Indiana much more closely regulates commercial food production as opposed to cottage food production. Commercial kitchens must get a health department food permit and undergo regular health inspections. Indiana state department of health regulations closely watch any kitchen classified for commercial operation. Most importantly, the vast majority of foods that exist will fall under the purview of commercial food production. Sticking to the lightly regulated cottage food list can be tricky for many aspiring entrepreneurs.
All of this leads to a simple question. Can I sell food from home? The answer is a mix of yes and no.
On the yes side, you can absolutely sell food that you made in your home kitchen. As long as the food is on the list and safe for consumption, it's fine. To clarify, baked goods can be made at home and then sold, but they cannot be moldy, spoiled or otherwise unsafe to eat. It’s pretty simple in this regard, and baked goods are among the best selling cottage foods in Indiana.
Still, you cannot literally sell food out of your house. When it comes to the transaction itself, that cannot take place at your home unless your home includes a state-recognized roadside stand. Without that stand, if you want to know how to sell food from home legally, you have to find an approved location to actually sell your food to customers.
There’s an additional caveat that merits consideration. The physical transaction has to take place at approved spots, but that doesn’t apply to all communications. You can use online or digital resources to find customers and take orders. You can even take payments online as long as the food is delivered to the customer at an approved location. Selling homemade food online is fine as long as it routes through an approved vendor location. That’s the major sticking point for Indiana cottage food regulations.
The key for how to sell food from home legally is to look into roadside farm stand ideas and make food that can be sold there.
Comparing Indiana to other states can help illuminate what is common and uncommon about the practice within Indiana. Three states for comparison are Virginia, Michigan and Missouri.
Looking first to Virginia cottage food laws, the laws largely match what you will find in Indiana. The list of approved cottage foods are almost identical between the two states. Virginia allows for a few more snack foods, but it is not a major distinction. Virginia, likewise, does not require any special license to sell cottage foods. Another similarity is that Virginia does not have a sales cap for cottage food kitchens. The big difference is where sales can take place. Virginia only allows cottage food sales at farmers markets and the home of the cook — a notable distinction.
As for Missouri cottage food law, things change a bit more. Missouri is more restrictive in the foods that are allowed. While no license is needed, cottage food sellers can only broker baked goods, jellies and dry herbs. Also, they can only sell up to $50,000 of food out of their kitchen each year. If they go above that number, they will automatically qualify as a commercial kitchen and be subject to those regulations. Also, cottage sellers in Missouri have to sell directly to their customers from their home or at an event with food sales.
Michigan is the last state for comparison. In Michigan, sellers can do so directly from their homes or at most venues. There are no licenses or inspections in the process, and the approved food list is liberal compared to the other states listed. Michigan roadside stands are viewed the same as home kitchens. A wider selection of snack foods can be sold in this state. The big difference in Michigan is the annual cap. Cottage food sellers are limited to $25,000 each year in annual gross sales.