All across the United States, Americans 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.
Virginia has two paths for selling homemade food. The state expanded opportunities for cottage food producers in 2013 with the passage of “Home Kitchen Food Processing Exemptions.” Under the exemptions, there are barely any regulatory burdens but cottage food producers are limited in what they can sell and where. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services provides details.
The second option for Virginians to sell homemade food is to start a “Home Food Processing Operation.” This comes with no venue or sales restrictions but imposes a significant amount of red tape before a cottage food producer can start selling.
|Grades For Homemade Food Laws in Virginia||Home Kitchen Exemptions||Home Food Processing Operations|
|Food Categories Grade||D-||B-|
|Sales and Venue Restrictions Grade||C-||A+|
|Regulatory Burdens Grade||B+||F|
Virginia cottage food types
|Food Categories||Home Kitchen Exemptions||Home Food Processing Operations|
|What Shelf-Stable Foods Can I Sell in Virginia?||No restrictions||No restrictions|
|Can I Sell Refrigerated Baked Goods in Virginia?||No||Yes|
|Can I Sell Meat in Virginia?||No||No|
|Can I Sell Acidified or Pickled Foods in Virginia?||Yes||Yes|
|Can I Sell Low-Acid Canned Goods in Virginia?||No||No|
|Can I Sell Fermented Foods in Virginia?||No||No|
Many states regulate “cottage food,” meaning food made in home kitchens for sale. Virginia cottage food producers may sell low-risk foods and acidified vegetables. Section 3.2‐5130 of the Code of Virginia provides a list of low-risk foods, including candies, jams, jellies, dried fruits, dry herbs, dry seasonings, dry mixtures, coated and uncoated nuts, vinegars, popcorn, popcorn balls, cotton candy, honey, dried pasta, dry baking mixes, roasted coffee, dried tea, cereals, trail mixes, granola, and “baked goods that do not require time or temperature control after preparation.” Virginia cottage food producers also may sell “pickles and other acidified vegetables that have an equilibrium pH value of 4.6 or lower,” but gross sales of these products may not exceed $3,000 in a calendar year. In addition, Virginians who are approved as a home food processing operation can sell refrigerated baked goods.
Virginia cottage food venues
|Sales and Venue Restrictions||Home Kitchen Exemptions||Home Food Processing Operations|
|Sales Cap||None ($3,000 for acidified or pickled foods)||None|
|Where Can I Sell Homemade Food Direct to Consumers in Virginia?||Only at farmers’ markets and at home||No restrictions|
|Can I Sell Homemade Food to Retail Outlets Like Restaurants and Grocery Stores?||No||Yes|
Virginia cottage food producers may sell their goods directly to consumers at private homes or farmers’ markets. All other venues are off limits. Under its home kitchen exemptions, Virginia specifically bans cottage food sales over the Internet, across state lines, and at retail establishments like grocery stores and restaurants. On the other hand, home food processing operations face no venue restrictions and can sell online, through mail delivery, and at retail.
Getting started in Virginia
|Regulatory Burdens||Home Kitchen Exemptions||Home Food Processing Operations|
|Inspections Required Before Starting||No||Yes|
|Are Local Ordinances Preempted or Overridden?||No||No|
|License, Permit or Registration Required||No||Yes|
|Recipe Approval or Lab Testing Required||No||Yes|
|Food Handler Training Required||No||Yes|
Under the state’s home kitchen exemptions, getting started as a Virginia cottage food producer is easy. The state requires no registration, fee or inspection. All a person needs is a home kitchen. However, cities and counties may impose additional regulations on cottage food businesses. Home food processing operations, on the other hand, must complete a lengthy application before they can start selling, which requires inspections and training.
Virginia cottage food labeling
Virginia cottage food producers must package their goods with labels displaying the name, physical address and telephone number of the person preparing the food, and the date the food was processed. Labels also must include the name of the product, net weight, list of ingredients, and “possibly” nutritional information. Labels also must include the statement: “NOT FOR RESALE – PROCESSED AND PREPARED WITHOUT STATE INSPECTION.”
Virginia 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.
Virginia 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 Virginia story
Is government violating your homemade food freedom in Virginia? Do you have a potential case for IJ? Get started here…
Support Virginia legislation
Help expand cottage food laws in Virginia 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.