Cottage food laws are laws that certain states have passed concerning the production of certain types of foodstuffs for sale without a commercial license.
The particulars of the laws vary from state to state, but they basically lay out when it is OK to start a food production business in your own home kitchen, or without the expense and complications of various food codes and licensing requirements. 1
When a state has not adopted a cottage food law, it still may be possible that the state has given local authorities the authority to allow local cottage food operations. 2 Many large and famous food brands got their start in a home kitchen.
When they exist, most cottage food laws allow anyone to be a cottage food producer. 3 If you are looking to, for example, start making and selling your famous cookies, your states cottage food law (provided it has one) will give you the do’s and don’ts. Usually, the types of foods that are allowed to be manufactured for sale in home kitchens are low risk foods.
These same laws also govern the storage of these foods. A good rule of thumb as to whether a food is not a low risk, but a potentially hazardous food, is if it must be refrigerated or not. This means that breads, cookies, pretzels, and other baked goods are generally OK for cottage food business. Also, jams and jellies, jarred sauces, candies, or even flavored popcorn products are generally allowed.
When it comes to canned foods, the type of food may be regulated. For instance, low acid foods like certain vegetables or meat, may be prohibited due to the potential for botulism, whereas high acid fruits may be fine, such as in the aforementioned jams and jellies.
Some states provide a complete list of allowed foods, saying that “non-potentially hazardous foods including” the foods on the list are allowed. Other requirements are more vague, but still very broad, stating only that the foods be not potentially hazardous but not giving any further specifics. California’s law lists the following foods, but also directs the Department of Health to list additional approved foods.
Cottage Foods Allowed in California
- Baked goods without cream, custard, meat fillings, such as breads, biscuits, churros, cookies, pastries, and tortillas
- Candy, such as brittle and toffee
- Chocolate-covered nonperishable foods, such as nuts and dried fruit
- Dried fruit
- Dried pasta
- Dry baking mixes
- Fruit pies, fruit empanadas, and fruit tamales
- Granola, cereals, and trail mixes
- Herb blends and dried mole paste
- Honey and sweet sorghum syrup
- Jams, jellies, preserves, and fruit butter that comply with federal standards for fruit butter
- Nut mixes and nut butter
- Vinegar and mustard
- Roasted coffee and dried tea
- Waffle cones and pizelles
Other states allow only certain non-potentially hazardous foods and several states are even more restrictive, limiting it to pressure cooker produced foods within certain specifications.
Where Can Cottage Produced Goods Be Sold?
Your states cottage food law will also govern where your food product can be sold. Can you sell it to grocery stores or restaurants? Can you sell it only locally? Can you sell it over the internet? Can you sell it to wholesalers, or food distributors who will then resell it? Nearly all cottage food laws state that the food can only be sold directly to customers at farmer’s markets, stands, or other similar places. California, again, is more broad in its regulations, separating producers into “Class A” and “Class B” producers and stating that Class B producers can sell both directly to the public and to restaurants and other retail establishments.
Are Their Size Limitations for Cottage Food Businesses?
The cottage food laws also regulate how big the business can be while still being allowed to operate under as a cottage food producer. These regulations are stated as limits on total sales. There are at least twenty states with no sales limit.
Is Special Labeling Required on Cottage Produced Foods?
The cottage food law will also specify the required labeling to be used on the food product package. There are some differences among states, but in general these labels will require the name and address of the producer, the common or usual name of the product, ingredients in descending order according to weight, food allergen the food might contain, net weight and volume of the food product, processing date, and a statement that reveals the food product was made in a home kitchen that has not been inspected by the state’s department of health or agriculture. Below is a sample label for the state of Michigan from the Michigan Cottage Foods Information Page. 4
What About Registrations or Other Requirements?
Finally, the cottage food law will state whether a special registration, license, or permit is needed. This requirement varies widely among the states. Also, cottage producers are not always exempt from inspection, such as in North Carolina.
States With Cottage Food Laws Chart
The following table lists the states that have cottage food laws, and gives some of their basic characteristics.
|State||Broad Fd. Allowed||Ltd. Fd. List||Restricted||Direct to Cons. Only||Indirect Sales||No Sales Info|
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- Certain states may require this, see below.
- Missouri is an example.
- Rhode Island restricts cottage food producers to “farmers who are conducting on-farm processing.”
- Michigan, United States. Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Michigan Cottage Foods Information. Michigan.gov, n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2014. <http://www.michigan.gov/mdard/0,4610,7-125-50772_45851-240577–,00.html#Labeling>.
- Condra, Alli. Cottage Food Laws in the United States. Cambridge: Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, Aug. 2013. PDF.
- Davis, Detra Denay. How to Start a Home-based Bakery Business. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot, 2011