People love cookies, cakes and breads right out of the oven. Yet finding homemade food for sale can be difficult because states often restrict people who work in their own kitchens. Such regulations are short-sighted and counterproductive. People have a right to earn an honest living without excessive government interference, and consumers have a right to buy food from venders they know and trust. Since 2013, the Institute for Justice has defended home bakers and chefs as part of its Food Freedom Initiative. Thousands of small businesses have flourished as a result. Partnering with IJ, people across the country have fought back and won greater economic freedom. So can you.
Cottage food laws
Many state and local laws regulate “cottage food,” meaning food made in a home kitchen for sale. Every state except New Jersey allows the sale of cottage food, but the types of products allowed and other restrictions vary by jurisdiction. Some states, like Wyoming and Utah, allow the sale of all nearly types of homemade food, including meals and perishable foods. Most other states allow the sale of only shelf–stable foods like baked goods and sweet snacks. Fortunately, the national trend line is moving toward more food freedom. More laws pass every year, expanding the right to sell homemade food.
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Cottage food facts
Myths about cottage food abound. Here are the facts:
- Cottage food is safe. Critics who talk about the risk of food-borne illness give hypothetical examples of what could go wrong because real-world cases are rare or nonexistent.
- Cottage food is local. When neighbors trade with neighbors, money stays in the local economy.
- Cottage food is transparent. People who buy from a cottage food producer know what they get. If they have questions about ingredients, sourcing or safety, they can ask.
- Cottage food creates jobs. Results in Minnesota show the potential economic impact. Within two years of an IJ victory in 2015, the state granted more than 3,000 cottage food licenses, each representing a small business. By 2020, the number had swelled to 4,000. Something similar happened in California. A 2013 law legalizing cottage foods led to the creation of over 1,200 new businesses in just its first year.
- Cottage food empowers women. IJ’s cottage food research shows that most cottage food producers are women, and many live in rural areas with limited economic opportunity.
- Cottage food expands consumer choice. Some stores simply don’t sell what you want. This is especially true if you have a gluten-free, peanut-free, halal, kosher or vegan diet. Cottage food fills market gaps, giving consumers more options.
Cottage food under attack
Government regulators use a variety of tactics to restrict homemade food sales. Rules vary from state to state, and sometimes from county to county or within different municipalities. Common restrictions include:
- Products. Regulators provide a narrow list of allowable menu items and ban everything else.
- Venues. Regulators allow the sale of homemade food only at certain venues. Many states ban online financial transactions or delivery by mail.
- Permits. Regulators require home bakers and chefs to get permission from the government before selling their products.
- Revenue. Many states put caps on gross income, which prevents home-based businesses from growing beyond a certain size.
Cottage food resources
As part of its Food Freedom Initiative, the Institute for Justice provides a variety of resources for home bakers and other food entrepreneurs. These include:
- Model Food Freedom Act from the Institute for Justice guides activism efforts at state capitols nationwide.
- Flour Power: How Cottage Food Entrepreneurs Are Using Their Home Kitchens to Become Their Own Bosses surveys 775 cottage food producers in 22 states about what their businesses mean to them.
- Ready to Roll highlights nine lessons from the Institute for Justice’s cottage food victory in Wisconsin.
- The Attack on Food Freedom examines the impact of regulations on farmers, chefs, artisans, restaurateurs, food truck operators and others.
In addition to the above listed, our team has also helped establish the below coalition pages across the nation:
- DC Cottage Food Reform
- Indiana Home Based Vendors
- Kentucky Home Bakers
- Maryland Cottage Food Reform
- Nebraska Cottage Food Bill
- New Jersey Home Bakers Association
- Oklahoma Baker’s Bill
- Washington Cottage Food Reform
- West Virginia Cottage Food Bill
Cottage food victories
The Institute for Justice has filed cottage food litigation on behalf of clients in Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota and Wisconsin. Some cases have resulted in victories, while the rest are still pending. , IJ also has guided legislative reform in multiple states, including Wyoming, West Virginia, Washington, Maryland, Nebraska, Kentucky, Florida, and the District of Columbia. See recent reforms for state cottage food and food freedom laws…
She Battled the Cookie Police and Won
Wisconsin farmer Dela Ends loves cooking and baking. But she got a hard lesson in government red tape when she tried selling homemade items at the local farmers market. Regulators shut her down, threatening fines or jail time if she came back. “It’s really disappointing to realize that you can’t sell something that you know your customers want,” Dela says. “It didn’t really seem like we were doing anything unreasonable.” Rather than just taking her cookies and going home, Dela and other home bakers partnered with the Institute for Justice and fought back in court. Now, following a successful legal challenge, they can sell many types of homemade foods directly to their neighbors without government interference. Dela now knows the recipe for victory.
Tell your story
Is government violating your homemade food freedom? Do you have a potential case for IJ? Fill out the attached form to get started…
Help expand cottage food laws in your state by teaming with the Institute for Justice. Send an email with your name, background information and availability to get started…
Economic liberty champions
IJ clients fight for their own economic liberty, but also yours. Read their inspiring stories.
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All information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Statutes, regulations, and processes are subject to change at any time, and specific facts and circumstances could alter how they are applied. If you have questions about the regulation of cottage foods in your jurisdiction, we recommend consulting a lawyer who can help you navigate the process.