The Cottage Food Law

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Above: Stefanie Samara Hamblen, owner of the now-legal “Illegal Jam Company,” cans a batch of her locally-sourced jams.

Recent legislation enables entrepreneurs to sell homemade goods

Ruthann Macheski used to drive 40 miles from her farm in Williston to Gainesville, just to bake in a commercial kitchen. Some did not have the equipment she needed, so she lugged pounds of large-scale pots and pans, baking sheets and springform pans back and forth.

When House Bill 7209, commonly referred to as the Cottage Food law, passed on July 1, the breads and cakes made in Macheski’s own home kitchen became legal to sell.

“[Before] I would go wherever I could get space,” she said. “It was a hassle. Now I don’t have to leave the farm.”

Before the law passed, any food for sale had to be cooked in a commercial kitchen. These kitchens are inspector-certified and guarantee a government-approved level of sanitation.

Macheski, who formerly worked as a kitchen inspector before permanently moving out to her farm, can now sell homemade breads and cakes under her company name, Ruthie’s Country Kitchen, at the farmers’ market.

Food sold under the Cottage Food law must be a direct sale. It can be sold from the seller’s home, at farmers’ markets and at roadside stands. Macheski now sells baked goods in addition to meat, dairy and produce from her farm and at local farmers’ markets.

The law does not cover indirect sales, such as providing for a restaurant. Selling online is also not allowed.

Although some rules are well- detailed, the entire law is not clearly explained. The pamphlet printed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services was not explicit enough, said Macheski. Her copy of the brochure is covered in penciled notes and questions.

She called the lawmakers in the Florida Senate with a list of questions.

Did “homemade pasta” refer to fresh or dried noodles? Did dehydrated soups fall under the category of “dry herbs, seasonings and mixtures?”

“I burned up the phone line to Tallahassee,” she said. The government workers were stumped. Although they promised to call back, her questions remain unanswered.

The guide says to check with local municipal, city or county government for official requirements. The problem? Not all of these officials are even aware the law exists.

With her calls and questions, the local officials who oversee this new law have realized they may have to address it within their business structure.

“I have brought this to the attention of so many county and city inspectors,” Macheski said.

She had followed the law as it went through the house and legislature. After it passed, she began spreading the word to her friends. For farmers already selling at markets, baking, say, a zucchini bread out of the squash that didn’t sell, allows them to effectively double their profit. They can make more money without growing more produce.

In addition to baked goods, the Cottage Food law covers jam and other fruit products like vinegars, pasta, dry herbs, granola, nuts and honey. The product must be labeled with the name of the Cottage Food Operation and product, all ingredients, the net weight and any allergens.

The new law does not cover many food items, including meats, dairy products, ketchup and canned pickled products. If these products aren’t made properly, they can cause salmonella or botulism. To prevent any sanitation disasters, Macheski recommends that anyone interested in selling from a home kitchen take an online course in food handling.

“My worry is that too many people will get involved, who don’t know what they’re doing,” she said.

Stefanie Samara Hamblen, who owns the Illegal Jam Company, understands the importance of food safety. She gets a certain satisfaction out of the noise the jars make when they are properly suctioned, guaranteeing that they won’t spoil.

“It’s that ping you hear when you know they’re sealed,” she said. “That’s when you know it’s done.”

Her jam hobby started four years ago, when she took the excess figs from her neighbor’s trees and re-created her grandma’s preserves.

By this summer, jam had grown from pastime to obsession. She was able to give some jars away to friends and family, but her jam-making outstripped her gift-giving. By June 30, there were 160 Bell jars of homemade jam stacked in her kitchen, overflowing out of the pantry and on to her front hall table.

“It was out of control,” Hamblen said.

Since the jams were made in her home instead of a commercial kitchen, Hamblen couldn’t sell them. She dubbed her enterprise the “Illegal Jam Company” in the July issue of Hogtown HomeGrown, the monthly newsletter she writes and publishes that promotes local eating and home cooking.

But after the Cottage Food law passed – ironically, the day after she published the newsletter – her homemade jam became legal. Suddenly, Hamblen’s passion for preserves had the potential to become a profitable business.

“I realized I was sitting on a gold mine,” she said.

Hamblen keeps her operations as simple as her recipes.

She uses her “plain old four-burner” stove to make the jam. Her part-time job as a nanny provides her with toddler taste-testers.

Hamblen sells her jams at the Alachua County and Haile Village Farmers’ Markets and from her house.

Though at one point she was making more jam than she could give away, Hamblen doesn’t anticipate selling over the profit limit of $15,000 per year.

Macheski, however, is considering building a separate commercial kitchen on her farm within the next two years.

Although the Cottage Food laws cover her current operations, a commercial kitchen eliminates restrictions. She could start selling homemade pickles, tomato sauces and other products not covered by Cottage Food laws and would not be subject to the profit limit. She would also be able to sell these products in restaurants and specialty food stores.

These new laws work well for simpler operations, but a commercial kitchen still allows for a wider range of options.

Correction (1/4/12): Currently, Stefanie Hamblen does not sell her jams at the Alachua County or Haile Village Farmers’ Markets. We apologize for the error. For more about the “Illegal Jam Company,” check out its Facebook page.

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17 Comments

  • February 3, 2012

    Grace

    Up until the advent of the Cottage Food Laws, starting a small business baking was cost prohibitive. I know, I went through process of adding a licensed commercial kitchen to our home to be able to bake at home and sell my products. I applaud these new laws.

  • January 24, 2013

    Christeene Hildenbrand

    Why are dehydrated soup mixes not being included in the cottage food law?

  • January 25, 2013

    Mumsy

    I need details on what defines packaging. I make fresh breads and prefer them in a case for display and so that people see what they are buying. Is that possible and then leave the required label on the bag that their selection is put in.

  • January 25, 2013

    Chelsea Hetelson

    http://www.freshfromflorida.com/fs/CottageFoodAdvisoryWithFormNumber.pdf

    The above is a link to the Florida Dept of Agriculture and Consumer Services brochure on the Florida Cottage Food Laws. Throughout there are lots of helpful links and a phone number to call for more information and on page three is information on labeling. Hope this helps!

  • February 22, 2013

    Stephanie

    “The law does not cover indirect sales, such as providing for a restaurant. Selling online is also not allowed.”

    I also live in FL. I am doing some research to figure out what I need to do to sell my gourmet handmade chocolates that I make in my home kitchen. Everything in this article matches my other findings but I’m confused about selling online. Does this mean I can’t have a store on etsy? Do you know if registering as an LLC will make a difference?
    I know this post is old but any information you provide will be helpful.

    Thank you,
    Stephanie

  • February 27, 2013

    Ashira Morris

    Hey Stephanie!

    Unfortunately, the law doesn’t permit internet sales. If you’re interested in learning more about the Cottage Food Law, the link that Chelsea posted about is very informative and describes which methods of selling are covered by the law.

  • March 8, 2013

    Wally Kissel

    Hello,
    I was wondering, under the Cottage Food Law, is it permitted to make and sell dog treats and dog biscuits from a residential kitchen?

    Thank you.

  • March 12, 2013

    Joyous Ferro

    I was wondering about making dog and cat treats also. Any help will be appriecated.

  • April 2, 2013

    kristin

    I just got my business license under home cottage zoning and I have a dog bakery. What’s weird is when I got home and researched the home cottage law most websites said that pet bakery wasn’t allowed. They definitely let me get a license for it though. Hope that helps some.

  • April 7, 2013

    Maria

    I am very interested in doing this, I have been on and off with eating vegetarian my whole life, and now I feel I got a grip and a commitment to enjoy vegetarian, any hoot, I dabbled with banana breads for years and the best recipe I have is amazing and everyone tells me to sell the bread, It is Vegan Banana Bread and I love it, and it’s dairy free, yay, so your saying I can actually make this fine bread in my home and sell it? Wow working full-time is hard but I pride myself with Vegan cooking as well.

  • April 19, 2013

    jan houghtaling

    can i make and take cotton candy pre packaged and or make on site and what would the rules be under this law please want to take to flea

  • May 10, 2013

    Brigitta Pap

    Dear Stefanie
    I read your web site about the Cottage food Law, and I just would like to ask some questions if you do not mind.
    I would like to open a Homemade PICKLED VEGETABLE Business could you please e-mail me what kind of permits, licenses do I need for it? I tried to look it up on the web side and it is very confused .
    And also Can I do make the pickles in my own kitchen?
    I hope you able to help me
    Best regadrs

  • June 10, 2013

    Paul

    All Pickeled Canned products must be produced in a Licensed KItchen
    The Cottage Law is very specxific about Pickeled Products.

  • October 4, 2013

    Wanda Skeen

    Does the Law prohibit the sell of BBQ ribs and chicken dinners. Our Pastor makes his own BBQ recipe, and makes one diabetic type, we do this rather often throughout the year. (at least 25 yrs now) Do we need to have a food handling certificate or not? Just wondering, don’t want to get shut down, people just love “The Preachers BBQ.”

  • October 4, 2013

    Wanda Skeen

    Does the Law prohibit the sell of BBQ ribs and chicken dinners. Our Pastor makes his own BBQ recipe, and makes one diabetic type, we do this rather often throughout the year. (at least 25 yrs now) Do we need to have a food handling certificate or not? Just wondering, don’t want to get shut down, people just love “The Preachers BBQ.”

  • October 14, 2013

    Alyssa

    Kristen, how did you get a business license? I have done hours of research and I have come up with that I don’t need (and basically can’t get) a license for this type of operation.

  • November 9, 2013

    Bianca

    I have been trying to find the answer to this question for hours! Maybe you can help me. I understand that under the Cottage Food Operations law that I can only SELL directly to the customer. But what if I want to donate to a charity or non profit organization, or even just to give to my family members that live far away. Would I be able to ship those items?

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