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. Washington, DC, expanded opportunities for cottage food producers in 2013 with the passage of Council Bill 20-0168. The rules, updated in 2020 with the passage of Council Bill 23-0192 and Council Bill 23-0269, allow cottage food producers to sell many types of foods in many venues.

Grades For Homemade Food Laws Washington, DC
Final GradeD
Food Varieties Grade F
Sales and Venue Restrictions Grade B
Regulatory Burdens GradeC-

Washington, D.C., cottage food types

Food VarietiesWashington, DC?
What Shelf-Stable Foods Can I Sell in Washington, DC?Food must have been approved by the Department of Public Health.
Can I Sell Refrigerated Baked Goods in Washington, DC?No
Can I Sell Meat in Washington, DC?No
Can I Sell Acidified or Pickled Foods in Washington, DC?No
Can I Sell Low-Acid Canned Goods in Washington, DC?No
Can I Sell Fermented Foods in Washington, DC?No

Many states regulate “cottage food,” meaning food made in a home kitchen for sale. Cottage food producers in Washington, D.C., may sell “non-potentially hazardous” goods, which generally means products that do not require time or temperature control for safety. Examples include homemade breads, cakes, cookies, brownies, fudge, cotton candy, brittles, dry goods, pastries, honey, syrups, vinegars, cereals, dried fruits, pasta, jams, jellies, granolas, fruit leathers, nuts and seeds. Prohibited items include pickles, juices, ketchups, salsas and anything containing meat.

District of COlumbia cottage food venues

Sales and Venue RestrictionsWashington, DC
Annual Sales CapNo limit
Where Can I Sell Homemade Food Direct to Consumers in Washington, DC?Only at farmers’ markets and at public events.
Can I Sell Homemade Food to Retail Outlets Like Restaurants and Grocery Stores?No
Online OrdersYes
Mail DeliveryYes

In the District of Columbia, cottage food producers may sell their products directly to consumers online and at farmers’ markets and special events. Other options include home delivery and pickup. Once approved, cottage food producers in Washington, D.C., face no sales limit. Prior to 2020, the limit was $25,000 per year.

Getting STarted in Washington, DC

Regulatory BurdensWashington, DC
Inspections Required Before StartingYes
License, Permit or Registration RequiredYes
Recipe Approval or Lab Testing RequiredOnly to add cottage food products not currently approved.
Food Handler Training RequiredNo

Cottage food producers must navigate a complex application process in Washington, DC. They first must obtain a home occupancy permit from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. They also must complete a district-approved food safety management course and register with the Cottage Food Business Registry (CFBR) within the Department of Health. Prior to issuing a cottage food business identification number, the department will conduct a home inspection. The application fee is $50. The Department of Health provides additional details…

District of COlumbia cottage food labels

Washington, D.C., cottage food producers must sell prepackaged foods with labels that contain the cottage food business identification number, product name, ingredients in descending order by weight, net weight or net volume, allergen information as specified by federal labeling requirements, and nutritional information (if any nutritional claims are made). The following statement must be printed in 10-point or larger: “Made by a cottage food business that is not subject to the District of Columbia’s food safety regulations.”

Washington, DC 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.

District of COlumbia cottage food resources 

  • DC Cottage Food Reform Coalition: Like our Facebook page to learn more about the DC cottage food law, how you can get involved, and learn tips of the trade from fellow cottage food producers.

Tell your Washington, DC story

Is government violating your homemade food freedom in Washington, D.C.? Do you have a potential case for IJ? Get started here… 

Support Washington, DC legislation

Help expand cottage food laws in Washington, DC 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.