All across the United States, people are making food at home to sell in their communities. Together, they form a small but growing industry—the homemade or “cottage food” industry. The movement fits within a larger trend toward healthy eating and responsible sourcing, as consumers take greater interest in where their food comes from and who makes it. Selling cottage food has been legal in Iowa for many years. The state has one set of rules for Home Food Operations and another set of rules for Iowa Home Bakeries. Iowa homemade food producers can determine which program works best for them.

Grades For Homemade Food Laws Iowa Home Food OperationsIowa Home Bakery
Final GradeCC-
Food Varieties Grade DD
Sales and Venue Restrictions Grade C-A-
Regulatory Burdens GradeB+D-

Iowa cottage food types

Food VarietiesIowa Home Food OperationsIowa Home Bakery
What Shelf-Stable Foods Can I Sell in Iowa?No restrictionsOnly baked goods, other pantry goods are banned.
Can I Sell Refrigerated Baked Goods in Iowa?NoYes
Can I Sell Meat in Iowa?NoNo
Can I Sell Acidified or Pickled Foods in Iowa?NoNo
Can I Sell Low-Acid Canned Goods in Iowa?NoNo
Can I Sell Fermented Foods in Iowa?NoNo

Many states regulate “cottage food,” meaning food made in a home kitchen for sale. Iowa cottage food producers who operate a Home Food Operation may sell homemade food that is not time- or temperature-controlled for safety. Generally this refers to shelf-stable foods that do not require refrigeration. Examples include breads, rolls, biscuits, pastries, cookies, candies, confections, fruit pies, jams, jellies, preserves, cereals, trail mixes and granola.

Meanwhile, people with an Iowa Home Bakery permit may sell additional types of baked goods, including baked goods that require temperature control for safety. Examples include soft pies, cheesecakes and baked goods with custard or cream fillings.

However, Iowa does not allow either group to sell acidified, low-acid canned foods or foods that have been cured, fermented or juiced. Prohibited items include pickles, salsas and sauerkrauts.

Iowa cottage food venues

Sales and Venue RestrictionsIowa Home Food OperationsIowa Home Bakery
Annual Sales CapNone$35,000
Where Can I Sell Homemade Food Direct to Consumers in Iowa?Only at farmers’ markets and from home.No restrictions
Can I Sell Homemade Food to Retail Outlets Like Restaurants and Grocery Stores?NoYes
Online OrdersNoNo
Mail DeliveryYesYes

Iowa cottage food producers who operate a Home Food Operation may sell their foods directly to consumers in private residences or farmers’ markets. Online and retail sales at grocery stores are forbidden. Once a Home Food Operation is running, the state does not impose a revenue cap. Iowa cottage food producers who operate an Iowa Home Bakery may also sell their foods online and wholesale to restaurants and grocery stores. They also may sell their foods at roadside stands and special events but face a sales cap of $35,000 in annual gross revenue.

Getting started in Iowa

Regulatory BurdensIowa Home Food OperationsIowa Home Bakery
Inspections Required Before StartingNoYes
Are Local Ordinances Preempted or Overridden?NoNo
License, Permit or Registration RequiredNoYes
Recipe Approval or Lab Testing RequiredNoNo
Food Handler Training RequiredNoNo

Setting up an Iowa Home Food Operation is easy. All a person needs is a kitchen and entrepreneurial spirit. Iowa does not require a home inspection or any special license, registration or training to get started. The rules are more complex for Iowa Home Bakeries, which can sell more types of foods in more venues. Iowa requires an annual home inspection and license.

Iowa cottage food labels

Iowa cottage food producers who operate an Exempt Home Food Operation must attach a simple label to each product. Labels must show the business address, business name and product name. People who operate an Iowa Home Bakery must include additional information on their product labels. Besides the business name, business address and product name, they must list the ingredients and net amount of each product.

Iowa 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. Many homemade food producers use their income to provide for their families. Others seek a secondary or supplemental income. 
  • Cottage food empowers women. IJ 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.

Iowa 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: 

Tell your Iowa story

Is government violating your homemade food freedom in Iowa? Do you have a potential case for IJ? Get started here… 

Support Iowa legislation

Help expand cottage food laws in Iowa by teaming with the Institute for Justice. Send an email with your name, background information and availability to get started… 

Defending homemade food freedom nationwide 

People have a right to earn an honest living without arbitrary and excessive government interference. Since 2013, the Institute for Justice has defended home bakers and chefs as part of its Food Freedom Initiative. Read about IJ’s nationwide food freedom advocacy…

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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.