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 VirginiaHome Kitchen ExemptionsHome Food Processing Operations
Final GradeC-C+
Food Categories Grade D-B-
Sales and Venue Restrictions Grade C-A+
Regulatory Burdens GradeB+F

Virginia cottage food types

Food CategoriesHome Kitchen ExemptionsHome Food Processing Operations
What Shelf-Stable Foods Can I Sell in Virginia? No restrictionsNo restrictions
Can I Sell Refrigerated Baked Goods in Virginia? NoYes
Can I Sell Meat in Virginia? NoNo
Can I Sell Acidified or Pickled Foods in Virginia? YesYes
Can I Sell Low-Acid Canned Goods in Virginia? NoNo
Can I Sell Fermented Foods in Virginia? NoNo

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 RestrictionsHome Kitchen ExemptionsHome Food Processing Operations
Sales CapNone ($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 homeNo restrictions
Can I Sell Homemade Food to Retail Outlets Like Restaurants and Grocery Stores?NoYes
Online OrdersBannedAllowed
Mail DeliveryBannedAllowed

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 BurdensHome Kitchen ExemptionsHome Food Processing Operations
Inspections Required Before StartingNoYes
Are Local Ordinances Preempted or Overridden?NoNo
License, Permit or Registration RequiredNoYes
Recipe Approval or Lab Testing RequiredNoYes
Food Handler Training RequiredNoYes

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:

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.