Have you ever considered choosing your favorite family recipe, making a large batch, and selling it to make a little cash on the side? You’re not the only one. It turns out that selling homemade goods — commonly referred to as “cottage food” — is a common practice throughout the United States. Though it may be surprising, the sale of cottage food is regulated by law from state to state.
With various regulations in place, small-scale cottage food producers must respect a series of rules that are meant to lower consumers’ risk of foodborne illness while still allowing at-home producers to generate some income. This article will provide an in-depth look at cottage food law, permits, and licenses depending on the state and what it takes to sell cottage food legally in the United States.
Cottage food law refers to the legal requirements that small-scale food producers must abide by before selling their goods to consumers. Cottage food could indicate baked, pickled, canned, cooked, dry, or candy items. For example, cottage food could include canned beets, homemade candy, bread, and much more. Notably, cottage foods do not require refrigeration or include meat, dairy, or eggs.
To this end, cottage foods are generally low-risk, non-perishable, and are not likely to transfer any kind of illness to consumers, which lowers the producer’s liability and risk. This useful page provides additional information about what falls under the category of “cottage food” and what requires more complex licensing. Cottage food law makes it easier for small-time producers to sell their cottage food items because they are not required to obtain complicated licenses and follow the same production codes as larger food producers.
If you are interested in selling cottage food online, it’s important to take a look at your state’s policies before getting started, given that there are some states where it’s more restricted than others. Let’s begin by defining what it truly means to sell cottage food online. Typically, this activity involves the sale of non-perishable food items on an eCommerce platform such as Squarespace or Wix. On the other hand, online sales could mean that customers visit your website and you arrange for pick-up of items at a specific location that’s convenient for you. Online sale of cottage food can be done in a variety of ways, whether on the phone, over email, on an iPad, or laptop. No matter how you sell your goods, abiding by your state’s cottage food law is the first step to building a sustainable, honest side business.
The sale of cottage food may require certain permits and cottage food licenses, depending on the state in which the items are sold. However, if these requirements do exist, it’s safe to say that they are nowhere near as demanding as the codes and requirements that larger food producers must abide by. Even if your particular state does not require cottage food permits and licenses, it’s best to remember that local organizations like farmers’ markets or other small-scale organizations may have their own permit and licensure requirements outside of the cottage food requirements. The following information offers valuable information about the various requirements that cottage food producers should respect from state to state.
By following cottage food law, small-scale producers can rest assured that they are selling their goods safely and legally. After all, one of the biggest reasons why cottage food law is implemented is to limit the possible transfer of serious foodborne illnesses, which are commonly considered to be general food poisoning but can be very serious. The first step to receiving a cottage food license, should your state require it, is to complete a cottage food license application. As previously mentioned, there are several differences in cottage law depending on the state. The following sections will provide insight into getting a cottage food permit in California, a cottage food license in MN, a cottage food license in Washington State, and many more locations.
Cottage food producers should investigate their state’s specific requirements before selling their goods. For example, anyone who is seeking a cottage food permit Sacramento, a cottage food permit in Los Angeles or anywhere in the state of California, is required to sell only foods that appear on the state’s approved food list, complete a food processor training within 3 months of registering as a cottage food producer, respect sanitary measures, make state and federal compliant labels and stay within gross annual state income limits. To save time, if you are asking yourself, “ Do I need a license to sell homemade food in California,” check out this helpful page.
Cottage food producers in Minnesota can make and sell their goods without a license, but they are still required to register, attend training, abide by a list of approved foods, and respect sales limits, much like in California.
However, in Washington State, it is necessary to obtain a cottage food permit before selling homemade goods. This website walks applicants through the process of getting a permit. Keep in mind that the application alone costs $230, takes 4-6 weeks, and covers up to 50 cottage food items.
The application process to receive a cottage food permit or license can take a considerable amount of time (in the case of Washington State, 4-6 weeks) and should be started before any cottage food goods are sold to customers. The cottage food license application in Georgia costs applicants either $100 or $50, depending on the time of year that the interested parties apply. If states do require a license or permit to distribute cottage food, it is best to begin the application process well in advance, allowing enough time for the application to clear before you begin sales.
While licenses tend to be a general term meaning that permission is granted to do something, a permit typically applies to safety issues, which corresponds to the underlying health purpose behind a cottage food permit. As of 2020, 49 of the 50 states offer cottage food programs for local producers of homemade goods. New Jersey is the sole exception to these programs, with no legislation in place permitting the sale of cottage food items.
With a general idea of the rules that different states enforce around the sale of cottage food, the question remains: do you need a license to sell baked goods from home? While the short answer may be no, you must follow a few of the most common guidelines to ensure that your goods and business are safe and abide by governmental regulations. If you’re wondering how to get a license to sell food -- as well as a cottage food permit or simply how to gain legal permission -- check out the following information about the most common requirements relating to the sale of cottage food in the United States.
As stated above about the states of California, Minnesota, Georgia, and Washington, it is important to register as a cottage food producer with your state legislation. This generally takes the form of an application that is accompanied by an application fee. These fees can be hundreds of dollars, which represents the investment that you are making in maintaining a safe, healthy and prosperous side business. Be sure to leave enough time between your initial application and your first projected sales so that you don’t face a time crunch down the road. For example, some states say that application processing can take 4-6 weeks. Additional guidelines to follow before launching your cottage food business can be found in the following section.
In addition to registering as a cottage food producer promptly and paying any necessary application fees, it is crucial to ensure that your cottage food items are approved on your state’s list of cottage food. If they aren’t, you will likely need to pursue more complex licensing and permits associated with larger-scale food production. Generally speaking, your items should be low-risk, non-perishable, and non-refrigerated. They should not contain meats, dairy, or eggs -- these items are notorious for carrying foodborne illnesses if they are not kept in the proper conditions. This highlights the importance of maintaining sanitary operations and ensuring that your home kitchen or workspace is regularly cleaned and sanitized.
Yet another general requirement when selling cottage food is to make state and federal-compliant food labels for your items so that buyers have a clear idea of what they are consuming. Finally, cottage food producers are restricted to certain levels of income per year. Exceeding these amounts can disqualify someone from producing cottage food, as it would no longer be considered a small-scale income venture.
Selling homemade goods can be a fun and rewarding way to earn a little extra cash. That being said, cottage food producers should always consider their state’s specific requirements when it comes to selling homemade food items. Ask yourself, “Do I need a license to sell homemade food in my state?” Although the answer may be no, you should still be sure to register as a cottage food producer in your state, always abiding by their specific requirements and guidelines to sell your cottage food safely and legally.
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