Because of the pandemic, people must eat most of their meals at home. Apart from cooking their own food, many also often order cooked food for delivery. This is a profitable business opportunity for those who have lost their jobs and have great cooking skills. It does not require a huge startup capital because people can use their existing cooking equipment. Selling homemade food can become a full-time business.
State Laws on Selling Home Cooked Food
It is legal to sell certain types of homemade food under the cottage food program across the country. These are, however, limited to shelf-stable foods that do not pose potential hazards to consumers. This refers to food that does not need to be kept at certain temperatures, like cookies. Cooked meals are not allowed.
Among all the states, 38 allow the selling of cottage food online but only within the state while 21 allow the selling of cottage food through outlets like grocery shops also within the state.
Food Freedom Law
There were only a few states that had the Food Freedom Law prior to 2021, allowing the selling of cooked meals that include meat, poultry, and seafood, as well as pickled, canned, and refrigerated food. In states with the Food Freedom Law, an entrepreneur can fire up the Lynx BBQ grill and sell freshly grilled ribs, steak, chicken, and salmon with sides of grilled vegetables basted with extra-virgin olive oil.
Wyoming first had this law in 2015 and had revisions in 2017 and 2021. North Dakota had this law in 2017 and Utah in 2018. California had a Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations (MEHKO) law since 2019 but it was severely limited. Each city or country had to create a special ordinance for it, entrepreneurs had to cook and sell the food within the same day, and sales must be direct to customers, must not exceed 60 meals a week, and must not exceed $50,000 a year. As of September 21 this year, only Riverside County, Alameda County, Santa Barbara County, Solano County, Imperial County, Lake County, San Diego County, and the city of Berkeley have adopted the MEHKO.
In 2021, some states passed a Food Freedom Law or improved on what they had. This further widens the opportunities for home-based entrepreneurs.
Effective April 30, Montana’s new Food Freedom Law no longer required a permit from the state’s Department of Health or Department of Agriculture. Also, effective April 30, the city of Boston passed a residential kitchen ordinance allowing the selling of home-cooked meals.
Effective May 5, Utah’s Food Freedom Law allowed the selling of all types of home-cooked meals statewide without the need for country ordinances. It is now considered to be the friendliest state to sellers of home-cooked food.
Effective July 1, Wyoming’s Food Freedom Law allowed the selling of eggs. It also specified that restrictions on businesses selling homemade food must be as few as possible.
Effective November 1, Oklahoma’s new Food Freedom Law allowed both direct and indirect selling, as well as shipping, of non-perishable food. It also allowed the selling of almost all types of perishable food with the sales limit raised to $75,000 from $20,000.
New and Amended Cottage Food Laws
Other states added or amended a cottage food law in 2021. New York now allows cottage food to be sold in retail shops, restaurants, and even wholesale outlets.
Effective March 9, Arkansas allowed sales across state lines. In addition, effective July 29, the state allowed non-perishable food to be sold at retail stores anywhere. Effective March 15, the city of Lincoln, Nebraska passed an ordinance to make the setting up of a cottage food business much easier.
Effective May 5, Wisconsin allowed the sale of non-perishable baked goods for the first time. Effective July 1, New Mexico lifted the ban from selling food from home. It now allows selling food from the house, from retail outlets, and online within the state without the need for a state permit. Also, effective July 1, Florida prohibited its counties and cities from banning cottage food businesses. Sales ceilings were raised to $250,000 from $50,000.
Effective August 1, Minnesota’s sales ceiling was raised to $78,000 from $18,000. Effective October 4, New Jersey had a cottage food law for the first time.
Other changes are effective in 2022. Effective January 1, California’s cottage food law will allow shipping within the state, ease the restrictions of indirect sales within the state, and raise the annual sales ceiling. For its MEHKO law, any advertising must include the disclaimer that the food is “Made in a Home Kitchen” plus the name of the county and the enterprise’s registration number. In Illinois, effective January 1, almost all types of direct sales of cottage food will be allowed.
Home cooks who have specialties can now make money from these. Food can range from traditional comfort food with recipes passed down through generations to innovative tweaks that introduce new flavor fusions. The diners will benefit from the experience and the cook can profit much from it.