People love fresh-baked cookies and cake right out of the oven. Yet selling homemade food at most venues was illegal in Montana until 2015. Prior to legislative reforms passed that year, Montana homemade food producers could sell their products only at farmers’ markets. Montana lawmakers passed additional reforms in April 2021, eliminating many of the remaining restrictions around selling homemade food. Montana is now one of the freest states in the nation for homemade food sales.
Montana cottage food types
Many states regulate “cottage food,” meaning food made in a home kitchen for sale. People in Montana may sell any homemade food except pet food. They face restrictions when selling poultry, dairy and meat. Montana cottage food producers may sell poultry only if they slaughter fewer than 1,000 birds per year. They also must keep records in accordance with federal law. Montana cottage food producers may sell dairy products only in accordance with Montana’s small dairy regulations. Montana cottage food producers may sell meat or meat products only through temporary food establishments.
Montana Cottage food venues
Montana cottage food producers must sell their products directly to the consumer. They may not use a third party or retail establishment, except when selling raw, unprocessed fruits and vegetables. Montana cottage food producers may coordinate sales online, but they must deliver the food themselves and not use courier services. Montana also allows homemade food sales at traditional community events, including weddings, funerals, church and school socials, farmers’ markets, potlucks, neighborhood gatherings, club meetings and outdoor sporting events. Homemade food produced in Montana may not be sold outside the state.
Getting started in Montana
Montana cottage food producers must register with the state. This is a one-time application with a $40 fee that must be completed before selling any cottage food. The application does not require a state inspection. Montana has no specific cottage food labeling requirements, but all producers must make clear to consumers that the food has not been “licensed, permitted, certified, packaged, labeled, or inspected per any official regulations.”
Montana temporary food establishments
Montana has special provisions for temporary food establishments, which may operate at community events such as fairs and carnivals. Temporary food establishments may sell most types of food, including homemade meat products, but first they must obtain a permit from the local health department. Each temporary food establishment may operate at a fixed location for no more than 21 days in conjunction with a single event or 45 days within a calendar year at a recurring event.
Montana small dairies
The 2021 law creates provisions for “small dairies” or people who produce their own dairy products on a small scale. Small dairies must have no more than five lactating cows, 10 lactating goats, 10 lactating sheep or 10 other lactating hoofed mammals kept for producing milk. Small dairies are exempt from the licensing requirements that ordinarily apply to dairy producers. However, small dairies still are required to test all milk or cream sold as homemade food for standard plate count, coliform count and somatic cell count every six months, and for brucellosis every year. Small dairies are the only dairy producers in Montana that are permitted to sell raw milk, which refers to unpasteurized milk.
Montana 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.
Montana 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 Montana story
Is government violating your homemade food freedom in Montana? Do you have a potential case for IJ? Get started here…
Support Montana legislation
Help expand cottage food laws in Montana 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.