If you’re contemplating starting a business, you may want to begin operating out of your home kitchen. Maybe you have a snack mix that’s so good your friends say you should sell it. Or your jams and jellies have won prizes and now it’s time to bring them to a bigger audience at the local farmers market.
Before you start buying jars in bulk, remember that starting a business from home isn’t as simple as it seems. You may be able to save time and money, but you still need to follow some rules.
If you want to produce in your home you need to look at your local cottage food regulations. These are the laws that govern food production that happens within a private home. They vary from state to state and occasionally from county to county.
In this blog post we’ll cover what cottage food regulations are, the specifics of the regulations in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, and the pros and cons of producing under cottage food regulations.
What are Cottage Food Regulations?
Cottage food regulations are the set of laws that allow you to produce food for sale without being in a licensed commercial kitchen. They apply to home kitchens and other non-commercial kitchens such as those in community centers or farms.
Not all foods can be produced under cottage food regulations. The approved foods must be viewed as not potentially hazardous and at a low risk of contamination. This means they won’t support harmful bacteria growth.
The foods allowed under cottage food regulations vary from state to state, but generally they include:
- Room temperature stored baked goods like cookies or muffins
- Dry foods like snacks, nuts, popcorn, granola
- Tea and coffee blends
The food must not be perishable or require temperature control to remain safe. Therefore, you can’t produce hot food under cottage food regulations nor can you make and sell food that needs to be kept refrigerated like cream-filled baked goods.
In most states you need a license or permit and an inspection of your home kitchen to produce food under cottage food regulations. The food that you produce also needs to be clearly labeled with:
- Product name
- Product weight
- Your business name, address, and contact information
Some states have a cap on the amount of money that you can make from selling these foods. Many have limits on where and how the foods can be sold.
Even though you are using your own kitchen to produce the food, cottage food regulations ensure that it is safe and professional.
New York Cottage Food Regulations
New York has some of the most lenient cottage food regulations of the mid-Atlantic. There is no permit required, just a free registration with the Department of Agriculture and Markets. The registration does not expire unless you move.
There are also no inspections unless someone registers a complaint in which case they will come out.
Despite the freedom around making food products in New York, the list of foods that can be made is a bit more restrictive than other states, so it’s best to check the regulations before sending in your registration fee.
Food made under the New York cottage food regulations can only be sold in the state of New York, and they can be sold as both wholesale and retail items. There is no cap on the amount of money you can make in sales of food produced under the New York cottage food regulations.
For more information on New York cottage food regulations and what they do and do not allow you to make at home and sell, click here.
New Jersey Cottage Food Regulations
New Jersey has only allowed cottage food production since 2021, which means that the laws are quite new. Some local health departments haven’t fully learned them yet. Thanks to the NJ Home Bakers Association for getting this legislation through.
In New Jersey, you must have a license and a permit to produce food in your home kitchen. The permit must be renewed every two years. Before you can get either of those things, you must pass the food protection manager course.
New Jersey cottage food regulations permit the production of the generally approved foods listed above plus nut butters, vinegars, and mustards.
Food produced under the New Jersey cottage food regulations can only be sold within the state directly to consumers. You can sell online but deliveries and pickups must be made in person. You cannot ship the food items.
There is a $50,000 cap on foods produced under the cottage food regulations and you cannot sell them wholesale.
For more information about New Jersey Cottage Food Regulations, click here.
Pennsylvania Cottage Food Regulations
Pennsylvania doesn’t have an official set of cottage food regulations. Instead, the state has “limited food establishment” laws which set forth the parameters for producing food out of a home kitchen. The process is more involved than in either New York or New Jersey, but there are many more freedoms around what you can produce and how you can sell it.
In order to be approved to produce in a home kitchen, you must register as a home business, present a business plan, and get your home kitchen inspected.
If you are producing certain foods, they will need to be lab tested before they are approved. This includes:
- Acidic or fermented foods and beverages
- Dressings, sauces, and salsas
- “Moist” breads and cakes and some pies
- Dehydrated foods
- Some jams and jellies
In general, Pennsylvania allows cottage food production of most products that are not considered hazardous. They are one of the few states that allows for production of meat jerky in a home kitchen.
Pennsylvania allows foods produced under these regulations to be sold as retail or wholesale items. The state also allows for online sales and shipping. There is no cap on sales of food produced in home kitchens in Pennsylvania.
For more information about Pennsylvania limited food establishment laws, click here.
Pros and Cons of Producing under Cottage Food Laws
Producing under cottage food regulations can be a great way to start a business, but it has its limitations. The positives include:
- Lower cost of entry: In New York it’s free to register and in Pennsylvania the fee is only $35. Plus, you don’t have to pay to rent space in a commercial kitchen.
- It’s a great way to test out a business idea, especially if you’re planning to sell at a farmers market or add a prepared product to your farmstand.
- Cottage food regulations keep you from getting in trouble with the health department. It’s better to produce with a permit than it is to get caught selling food you’re making without any sort of registration. Keep in mind that some local health inspectors even scroll Facebook looking for people selling without permits.
However, the limitations of cottage food regulations include:
- There are only select foods that can be made in home kitchens. If you have an idea for a frozen pot pie business, pickle stand, or other potentially hazardous food, you will still need to prepare it in a commercial kitchen.
- If you want to sell wholesale to larger retailers, you will need to produce your food product in an inspected commercial kitchen. Cottage food regulations are best for people who are looking to sell direct to consumer on a smaller scale.
Overall, cottage food regulations provide a way into business for people looking to make foods that are not potentially hazardous. They let you try out your ideas on a smaller scale before committing to the expenses of a commercial kitchen. But, for anyone looking to really grow a business, the cottage food regulations will only provide a stepping stone, not a long term solution.
Once you have established your business and are thinking of growing, or if you have any food safety questions, reach out to Food Safety Mid Atlantic. We have years of experience supporting food businesses transferring to wholesale sakes or improving their food safety once they are selling wholesale.