Cottage Food Laws: Do I Need a Permit to Sell Food Locally?

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on September 17, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

You are a whiz in the kitchen and now you want to take what you make and sell it off your porch, at a farmer's market, or on the street. What will you need to do this legally?

The short answer is that you will probably need a permit. The more precise and much longer answer will depend on what, where, and to whom you are selling. Cottage food laws and regulations vary from state to state while permitting is contingent on the context of the sale.

Cottage Food Laws Nationwide

Most states, like California, now allow sales of certain approved foods made at home but still require vendors to seek a permit. The type of permit needed, and the cost, depends on whether you plan to sell directly to consumers (at farmer's markets or on the street) or whether you sell indirectly through stores and third parties.

In contrast to the specificity in California's law, for example, Florida requires no permits or licenses at all for cottage foods. Some states only allow on-farm sales, others limit the amount of sales. Some states provide lists of legally salable items, others simply state that the food for sale cannot be potentially hazardous.

A Harvard University Food Policy Initiatives survey of these laws, published in 2013, concluded that there is no uniformity nationwide and recommends speaking to a local lawyer before beginning any food business. Not only are the laws widely variable, but the necessary information is not always easily available.

Locavores Demand More

What is consistent, however, is an increased demand around the country for cottage food sales. This is attributed to two factors: the local food movement and the economic situation.

As people increasingly seek food grown and made close to home, the economic downturn has forced many Americans to be resourceful about income. Together, these two forces have prompted the passage of cottage food laws nationwide.

Get the Facts

Before you begin melting butter and designing sweet stickers for your charming chocolate chip cookies, get the facts. To find out precisely what permit you need, if any, to sell food on the street, at a farmer's market, or out of your house, talk to a lawyer who can explain local cottage food laws.

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