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. Maine has allowed “home food manufacturing” since 1980, making the state a leader in the movement.
Maine cottage food types
Many states regulate “cottage food,” meaning food made in home kitchens for sale. Maine cottage food producers may sell products that are shelf-stable, meaning they do not require time or temperature control for safety. Examples include most types of baked goods, candies, honey, ketchup, salsas, pickles, dried fruits and vegetables, cereals, pastas, pies, fruit butters, jams, jellies, fruit leather and popcorn. Maine cottage food producers may not sell low-acid canned goods. If Maine cottage food producers live in a local jurisdiction with a food sovereignty ordinance, they may sell other items that require refrigeration after opening. Exceptions include meat and poultry. See below for details.
Maine cottage food venues
Maine cottage food producers may sell their products in a wide range of venues, including farmers’ markets, roadside stands, retail stores and restaurants. Maine cottage food producers also may sell their products online with mail-order delivery. The state also allows home delivery and pickup.
Getting started in Maine
Maine cottage food producers must apply for a state license and pass a home inspection before selling their goods. Some products, including pickles and chocolate sauces, must be tested to ensure safety. If Maine cottage food producers get their water from a private source, or if they use a private sewage system, they must pass additional inspections.
Maine cottage food labels
Maine cottage food producers do not need labels on products sold directly to consumers from home. Products sold outside the home must include labels with the product name, production address, ingredients, and product weight.
Maine Food Sovereignty Law
Many states allow the sale of home-baked goods. Maine has gone further, passing a Food Sovereignty Law in 2017 that allows local governments within the state to legalize the sale of nearly all types of homemade foods directly to consumers. Before the law took effect, the state passed an amendment to exclude home-based meat and poultry processing. The amendment also excludes sales at farmers’ markets and other public venues. Under the Food Sovereignty Law, sales must occur at the “site of production,” which means only at farms and private residences. Sedgwick, Maine, became the first municipality to adopt a food sovereignty ordinance. By the end of 2018, more than 40 other Maine municipalities had followed with similar ordinances. An updated map from LocalFoodRules.org shows 97 Food Sovereignty municipalities in Maine as of 2021.
Maine 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. Since Utah’s food freedom law took effect in 2018, there has not been a single outbreak of foodborne illness from food sold under the law.
- 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.
Maine 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.
Tell your Maine story
Is government violating your homemade food freedom in Maine? Do you have a potential case for IJ? Get started here…
Support Maine legislation
Help expand cottage food laws in Maine 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.