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Cottage law brings us back to basic

12 July 2009 1,249 views No Comment

The term “cottage” originally referred to the family cottage (home) familiar to most rural communities; and described as a source of pleasure, family bonding, and individual rest and relaxation. When we refer to the “Cottage law” we are addressing legal tools employed by a state government to establish a legal arrangement for low risk food production prepared at a home residence.

A “Cottage Food Production Operation” involves a person using their own kitchen facility to produce food items that are not potentially hazardous, including bakery products, jams, jellies, candy, dry mixes, spices and some sauces.

“Cottage laws” are different for every state so home-based bakers and food processors should check with their individual state regulatory agency to learn about specific rules, regulations and labeling requirements. It should be noted that there are states that have no “cottage law” at all and simply do not allow home food processors to produce food products from home; a licensed commercial kitchen must be use.

A “Cottage Food Production Operation” may or may not be exempt from inspection and licensing.  For example in the State of North Carolina a Compliance Officer from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will come to the food processors home and inspect it, that is not always the case, however many food products, including those produced and packaged by a “Cottage Food Production Operation”, may be subject to food sampling conducted by the regulatory agency involved to determine if a food product is misbranded or contaminated.

There are currently 13 states (Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and Utah)  that allow home-based baking and food processing and it is imperative that potential home food processors contact the regulatory agency in their state if they plan to prepare foods for public consumption.

Not all areas of a state allow home food processing. The is a gray area involviong individual cities, counties and towns with regard to “cottage laws” which may disallow home-based baking and food processing, thereby requiring the food processors to only prepare food from a licensed commercial kitchen.

The laws are not consistent, and it is the responsibility of the individual food processor to learn what laws and regulations are applicable to their residence. Food processors are allowed to sell their products at Farmer’s Markets, to the general public and in some cases wholesale depending on the regulatory agency rules for sales and distribution. There is really no way of knowing how many home-based bakers and small food processors there are across America, however one thing is for certain and that is, today the consumer’s desire for homemade, back to the basics type foods with no preservatives or additives, along with local organic produce, opens the door for all food entrepreneurs ready and willing to become essential commodies in their community.

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