Do you need a license to sell food?

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License to Cook and Sell Food From Home

If you have regularly been told you need to become a chef or start selling the appetizing creations you make, you may be wondering how to sell homemade food legally or do you need a license to sell baked goods from home. Fortunately, most states across the United States allow you to obtain a license to cook and sell food from home. This type of food vendor license is called a cottage food license. Unlike those who sell food in supermarkets or restaurants,  a cottage food license allows you to sell certain types of homemade goods at home for profit.

This article will dive deep into questions like “Do I need a license to sell food from my home?”, “How to get license to sell food?”, and “Where do I find a cottage food license application in my state?”. You must remember that cities and counties may have different requirements than your state, so it is important to look at local laws as well as state laws before looking into licensing for food business at home. 

For the most part, cottage food laws are very similar across the United States. To briefly answer the question, “Do I need a license to sell homemade food?”, you will need one or more licenses to get started. Your cottage food license will only permit you to sell food from your home, church sale, or farmer’s market. Some states, like Minnesota, may allow you to sell certain items online. However, this is not common. 

Some states or jurisdictions may require a kitchen inspection while others do not. Regardless, food safety is key for any homemade food business. Items must be appropriately refrigerated, hand washing stations must be available, and ingredients cannot be kept past their shelf life. Some states even have requirements about pets. For example, North Carolina prevents you from selling food from your home if you have a pet. 

Let’s dive into the general process from selling food from your home.

Selling Food From Home

When you are selling food from home, most cottage food laws will only permit you to sell non hazardous items or foods that are unlikely to be at risk for a foodborne illness. This means you will likely not be able to sell meat, poultry, or homemade canned vegetables and meats. Essentially, if your foods must be kept at a certain temperature or require precise handling, it likely cannot be sold from your home. Foods you are able to sell in most states include baked goods and jams or jellies. Your state or jurisdiction may permit selling homemade food online, like Minnesota. 

Most cottage food laws limit the amount of sales you are able to acquire each year. For example, selling food from home in Texas and selling food from Florida allows sales of up to $50,000 per year. However, sales cannot be made over state lines. Selling food from home in Illinois only allows sales of up to $25,000 annually. Colorado cottage food laws only allow up to $5,000 in sales on each product, but there is no annual sales cap for the seller.  

Cottage food laws allow entrepreneurs the ability to promote local commerce and utilize your state’s produce and agriculture in your dishes. Unlike selling food in a restaurant, your items are not meant to be consumed on your property. They are meant to be sold to locals in the area and enjoyed at their homes. 

Permit To Sell Food From Home

If you are thinking about starting a home-based food business, you are likely wondering how to get a food vendor license. While this question is a great start, it is only the stepping stone on your journey to checking off all the requirements to obtain a cottage food permit. When you look into getting a permit to sell food from home, you are going to notice your state and local jurisdictions have numerous requirements, registrations, and licenses that must be met into order to obtain your food permit. 

For those who live in a neighborhood with a Homeowner’s Association, you should first see if you can even run a business from your home. Oftentimes, it is in violation of your agreement. 

How to get a permit to sell food from home starts with going to your city’s or state’s website and finding the permits sections. From there, you will know if you need the following to get started with your at-home food business:

  • Business Registration (sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC or corporation)
  • Food Handler's License (also called a Food and Safety Certificate)
  • Catering License
  • Zoning Variance

There aren’t many food operations that do not need permits. Your local jurisdiction may allow you to sell minimally processed drinks (like lemonade) without one, but some form of a business permit is typically required for anyone who wants to make a profit from selling items. 

Additionally, if the question, “Do you need a permit to sell food on the side of the road?” has run across your mind, the answer is yes. How to get a permit to sell food on the street is the same as applying for a cottage food permit in your city or jurisdiction. 

Can I Sell Food From My House

If you are wondering, “Can I sell food from my house?”, the answer is most likely yes! So long as your homeowner's association and zoning laws permit you, you can begin selling home cooked food to the public. Like any small business, appropriate planning, technology and marketing is required in order to grow a successful home business. 

We are often asked about how to start a small cooking business from home. The first step is to iron out your recipes. Since this is a business, you can no longer season “to taste”. You need to know exactly how much of each ingredient goes into your prepared home goods. Otherwise, you may be cutting into your profit without even realizing it. 

As mentioned, technology and marketing are crucial steps in how to start a small food business at home. A social media presence can help you reach those around your area that are looking for the delicious items you make. You can easily post pictures about your latest creations and grow a following. 

Those wondering how to start a food delivery business from home will need to check with local ordinances to see what the laws say. Some states will allow you to deliver goods from your home if you have a catering license. Other states may have additional requirements or may not allow you to deliver your cooked meals at all. 

How To Make Money Selling Food From Home

Of course, the most important question of all in this article is how to make money selling food from home. With today’s technology, it could not be easier to get your business of selling dinners out of your home off the ground. You can hire someone to create an app for selling home cooked food or build your own website. You can even sell your delicious creations by creating a large social media following on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and TikTok. 

To accept payments, you should look into payment processors that allow you to take cash, card, Zelle, Venmo, and contactless payment. This ensures you do not miss out on any customers who may only have one payment type of another. These payment processors do take a small percentage of your profits, so make sure their fees are built into the prices you are offering. 

Depending on your local area, you may be able to grow home-based food business ideas out of selling a cuisine that is not readily found. Others may do best by sticking to what  locals know and love. For example, those in the Midwest may be able to create tasty Thai and Chinese cuisine because there are not a large number of restaurants that create the authentic flavor. Others, like those who live in northern New Jersey, may be most successfully serving Polish or Latin food since those nationalities make up a large portion of the population. 

If you're wondering what are the best home based food business names, these will be names that reflect who you are and/or what you offer. You can use your first name, the exact food item you are offering, adjectives that relate to food, or something fun and creative. Some examples include Megan’s Cupcakes, Tasty Thai Cuisine, Jamaican Me Hungry, and others that reflect you and your business. 

However you plan to make money by selling food at home, remember that any money you make is subject to taxes. You may be required to collect sales tax in your city or state. Furthermore, all profits you make must be reported on your taxes. Be sure to save all of your receipts that relate to your expenses, which will help lower the amount of income you need to pay taxes on each year.

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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