Cottage Food Laws: Bake and Sell from Home

By on Jun 8th, 2012 | Livin' the Dream, Work

I recently made my first attempt at baking macarons, the Parisian delicacy that’s hard to come by in the U.S. and notorious for being finicky to make. As I waited for the crispy cookie shells to bake in the oven, I took in the almond flour scent and imagined a blissful life running a macaron production line, spending my time surrounded by the pastel morsels, and feeding them to happy family and friends and customers.

Once I admitted this was probably not actually an ideal career path (so much standing on my feet!), I did stop to wonder if it would be possible–if I could perfect the technique–to make macarons and sell them around town on occasion as a fun side hobby.

It used to be that if you had a fabulous method for for vanilla cupcakes or macarons or peanut butter cookies, and your friends or neighbors wanted to get their hands on a dozen, you had two options to bake and sell: 1) get a commercial kitchen license or rent out a commercial kitchen in order to comply with health code regulations, or 2) do it illegally under the table from home (metaphorically speaking).

Fortunately for people like me and anyone else interested in dabbling in the baking business without renting a restaurant kitchen, Cottage Food laws have spread across the country in the past few years. Currently pending in states like California and South Carolina, and already in place in states from Oregon to Maine, these laws are a departure from the regulation of all things edible, allowing home bakers to bake from home and sell their goods to the public under certain circumstances.

 

Though the laws vary by state, they usually set the following conditions:

1) Paperwork. Although the general idea is to keep state regulators out of your business, some states may require an inspections process of your home kitchen in order to get started up. You may also have to pay a home bakery registration fee.

2) What you can sell. In most cases, only baked goods considered “non-hazardous”–things like cookies and cakes that aren’t likely to harbor food-borne illnesses–are allowed by the laws.

3) Where you can sell. In stricter states, you may only be able to sell your home-baked goods directly out of your home. Other states with more lenient laws allow home bakers to sell at public venues like local farmer’s markets.

4) Labeling. As a form of consumer protection, most laws require labeling on home-baked products specifying that they were made in a home kitchen not regulated by the state’s department of agriculture. Some states also require a list of any allergens (peanuts, wheat, etc.) contained in the item. Others require a list of ingredients by weight, similar to standard food labeling for commercial food.

5) Profit limits. Many Cottage Food laws limit the total amount of sales a home baker can do in a year–typically somewhere in the low thousands. Anything over the limit and you’ll need to set up a commercial kitchen like other larger-scale operations.

Though the laws have been met with much rejoicing by bakers hoping to boost their economic situation, they aren’t without controversy: food safety groups and consumer protection advocates are up in arms in many states, worried that home baking will put consumers at risk. They do have a point. If you wanted, you could whip up your cupcakes in a dirty kitchen with sick children in the house, use improper food handling precautions, and then wrap those up in a pretty box and pass them off to an unsuspecting customer. Don’t do that.

To get your own home bakery operation started, find more information about your state’s laws below.

Writer, budget cruncher & stifled shopaholic.

35 Responses

  1. kathy bloomfield February 11, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    Jane,

    Thanks for this information. Very helpful. And, while they -as yet- do not have any Cottage Food Laws, could you add the District of Columbia on your States list. We are not a state per se, but we are still part of the Union with our own government. Thanks,

    Kathy B.

    Reply
    • Jane February 12, 2013 at 12:12 pm

      Hi Kathy,
      Thanks for the heads up! We added District of Columbia to the list, and will keep our eyes open for any D.C. Cottage Food Law updates.

      Happy home baking,
      Jane

      Reply
  2. Amanda February 19, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    Hi Kathy,

    I wanted to start a business selling cake pops, fudge, and some other stuff. But a “friend” had to rain on my parade, and said that I need a business license, I would have to either rent a kitchen or build a certified kitchen in 30% or less of my home, with it’s own entrance, etc etc… I am a single mom who is just looking for a way to make a little extra cash on the side while I get through college, I’m not looking to be the next Betty Crocker, (at least not yet ;) ). I clicked the link for my state, but it says it no longer exists. I’m in Georgia by the way. Thanks. :)

    Reply
  3. Jenn S March 6, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    Just found this info today and I am totally crushed. I am in Illinois (Illinoying) as I like to call it. I am struggling with my income and wanted to start decorating cakes as a side income. After acquiring enough basic tools and a few interested friends, I learned my state (you know the notoriously corrupt one) will only let you sell baked goods at a farmers market. I don’t know many people that shop for last minute specialty cakes outside on Main St. That is also after paying for a 15 hour certification course and having an inspection and your food tested. All ingrediants must also be listed by weight. Give me a break! I am so ready to move to another state! Any ideas? Who loves where they live and has the freedom to earn a living?

    Reply
  4. Josh March 16, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    Does anyone happen to know why Cottage food laws forbid internet sales? Maybe all states don’t, but I’m in Florida and here you can’t take internet orders. I’m just wondering what the logic would be for forbidding internet sales. The laws already forbid any foods that are “potentially hazardous” such as meats and other things that could spoil, so it doesn’t seem that shipping is the concern. I am interested in starting an internet confection company and because of this there is no way to start small, as I would have to obtain use of a commercial kitchen by either buying or renting a space, or converting space in my house that is “completely separate” from my home kitchen as the law says.

    Reply
    • Jens Odegaard March 19, 2013 at 8:05 am

      Hey Josh,

      Florida’s law doesn’t explicitly state why you can’t sell over the Internet, but after researching some similar laws it appears the reason is because states want the product to be sold directly to the end consumer and that couldn’t be guaranteed with Internet sales. The states see cottage food businesses as just a stepping stone for people to end up in a licensed, regulated commercial kitchen.

      You could try contacting the Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services Division of Food Safety at http://www.freshfromflorida.com/fs/contact.html for a more specific answer.

      Reply
  5. Linda May 16, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    I’ve been searching online for the specifics of the cottage food law for Maryland, specifically Montgomery County, but haven’t been successul. Any chance you can help me out? Thanks!

    Reply
  6. Lisa July 31, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    Hi,

    I live in Maryland and recently baked a batch of cupcakes for a family wedding. Everyone went nuts! I have always had a passion for cooking and baking and have often been asked to bake for special occasions (at no charge). As a kid I would actually bake and sell cakes for $5.00 a piece. :)

    I only want to sell cupcakes, that’s it. Do I need a license just to bake some cupcakes and sell them to people who ask for them?

    No one will come to my home, I am not opening an at home bakery, I simply want to bake some cupcakes and sell them on an “as ordered” basis.

    Thanks! :)

    Reply
  7. Lori Arteaga August 14, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Please help my friend and I get info on the California Cottage Law. We are getting conflicting reports from different sources. Where do we need to go and what will the costs be?
    Thanks, Lori

    Reply
  8. Donna September 6, 2013 at 9:17 am

    TN Cottage Laws that are listed here are outdated. Gov Haslam put into effect new laws in early 2012. My understanding is you don’t need a license but should think about getting one. You do have to post that it is home-based with some labeling on products due to allergens etc. Cracks me up that States make such a big deal out of selling food products, the Amish have been doing it for years on their front lawns & the biggest kick is nobody would probably eat in some restaurants for how they are run & not sanitary. Watch Restaurant Impossible sometime & see how groaty these places are & yet inspectors never shut them down – go figure, but sell a cookie from home & they want to hang you up!

    Reply
  9. Lisa September 14, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    Hi!!

    I recently found out about a local festival that I want to sell my cupcakes at. I have been searching the web as for what I need to obtain or where I can sell my cupcakes. I am so lost, I live in CT and was wondering if you can help me. ;)

    Reply
  10. Cari October 14, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    Hello!
    Thanks for this info.
    I truly hope I read the Indiana law incorrectly. It appears that the right to sell home baked goods is only opened to farmers at farmer’s markets and roadside venues. Please say I got it wrong!! :-(

    Reply
  11. Becky October 30, 2013 at 6:56 pm

    Good evening! Your state map indicates that Kentucky has the Cottage Law but I can’t seem to find any info. Where would I find the specifics as I want to sell cake pops, cupcakes and cookies from my home but this would be just as an” as needed” when I receive orders.

    Reply
  12. Deb November 16, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    What’s the cottage laws for Nebraska? I’m wanting to get a certified kitchen going for my own use as well for others to have access to.

    Reply
  13. Mary Jo November 16, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    Your map seems to show NC with a cottage food law, but the link to the NC page seems to involve a pretty full FDA certification, for commercial kitchen licensing. Am I missing something?

    Reply
  14. Heather Arter December 18, 2013 at 7:38 am

    Your information was very informative, thank you for sharing it. I recently submitted an application for cake pops in California and was denied. :( Cake pops are popular dessert items that have longer shelf lives unrefrigerated than cupcakes. I don’t understand why it was denied. Who can I contact about this?

    Reply
  15. Jennifer Jean February 26, 2014 at 8:20 am

    Hi I was told my fudge was really good and should sell it. I was thinking of doing it and rasing money for cystic fibrous in Rhode island. I know they don’t have a cottage farm law yet what can I do?

    Reply

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