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The word “cottage” refers to the home, so the term “cottage food” pertains to products produced in a single-family residence. These foods are considered low risk and are sold in a small-scale operation. Cottage foods can be produced by anyone.

Cottage food is the latest trend in gastronomy and agribusiness, making it a popular topic on Food Blogs. During the past couple of years, the number of farmers’ markets – the principal distribution site of cottage food – have skyrocketed. The reason behind its increasing popularity is simple; Americans are demanding for more access to fresh, healthy produce and homemade goods. Moreover, they want a more direct relationship with the products they buy, starting with the people who make them. One of the benefits of cottage food is that they help promote local farmers while supplying residents with fresh, high-quality food. While the increasing popularity of cottage foods is an exciting advent for farmers and foodies, it is also an important topic for those interested in studying law.

Cottage Food Laws

Cottage food laws are the guidelines that regulate cottage food. In order to assure the safety of these products, many states have passed laws that standardize cottage food. These specifications define what constitutes cottage food, how it is made and distributed. Cottage food laws are important because they not only protect the consumer, but the families that produce cottage foods.

To be sure, every state has its own unique definition of what qualifies as cottage food. According to the Michigan Department of Agriculture, cottage food refers to specific foods manufactured in a single-family home. Michigan also defines what constitutes a single-family home. The list of acceptable cottage food varies per state.

Cottage food law also regulates where products can be sold. For instance, cottage foods cannot be sold through local supermarkets. In Illinois, cottage food law states that food can only be sold at farmers’ markets, with proper labeling and a placard that highlights a food allergens warning.

Before starting a cottage food operation, one must obtain permission through their state department of agriculture. Requirements are different for each state. For instance, Illinois cottage food vendors must register their operation at a local health department and have a valid Food Service Sanitation Management Certificate.

For many inspiring foods or entrepreneurs, cottage food is a great way to start a small business. Although, be warned, most states have an income cap on how much a cottage food vendor may earn. In Michigan, the cap is as low as $15,000.

The State of Cottage Foods

Many states already have cottage food laws; those that don’t likely have legislation around cottage food pending. However, not all states allow the production and sale of cottage foods. To date, there are a handful of states that still do not have cottage food laws. In this case, a licensed commercial kitchen is legally required to sell food. The states without cottage food laws are:

  • Alaska
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island

Several states have passed legislation around cottage food that is very restrictive. These states are:

  • Alabama
  • Kentucky
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Tennessee

Sources

Chicago Tribune (2010)

Michigan Department of Agriculture Development (2012)

Ohio Department of Agriculture (2012)

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