Institute for Justice · March 24, 2022

A new report released today by the Institute for Justice, Baking Bad, analyzes and grades nearly 70 different programs that authorize the sale of homemade food in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Instead of having to rent prohibitively expensive commercial kitchen space, aspiring entrepreneurs can turn their own home kitchen into a business incubator.  

“Over the past two years of the pandemic, when it seemed everyone had a friend with a sourdough bread-making phase, more than a dozen states have made it much easier to start selling homemade food,” said Institute for Justice Legislative Analyst Nick Sibilla, who authored the report. “For anyone who wants to turn their love of baking, canning, pickling, or cooking into a business, economic opportunity is thankfully on the rise.”  

Today, every state has at least a “cottage food” law on the books, allowing the sale of home-baked goods and usually other shelf-stable treats like candy, cereal, dry mixes, jams, jellies, and the like. But as Baking Bad shows, some of these laws can be very restrictive:  

  • In 25 states, people selling food made at home face annual revenue caps, ranging from $3,000 for selling pickled foods in Virginia to $250,000 in Florida and Wyoming.  
  • In 19 states, cottage food producers are limited to a set list of foods approved by government regulators. 
  • Vermont and Wisconsin, for instance, allow the sale of baked goods but not other shelf-stable foods like coffee beans or candy. In other words, cottage food businesses can sell chocolate chip cookies, but not chocolate. The Institute for Justice is currently suing Wisconsin over its ban.  
  • Eight states prohibit homemade food businesses from selling online, while 15 states ban mail delivery of cottage food products. 
  • Six states plus the District of Columbia mandate both extensive inspections and licensing requirements before anyone can open any type of cottage food business.  

Fortunately, state legislators have a growing appetite for more expansive reforms: 

  • Five states have enacted “food freedom” laws, which let residents sell almost any homemade food, aside from those with meat that isn’t poultry, without any licensing, permitting, or inspection requirements. Those five states—Wyoming, Montana, Oklahoma, Utah, and North Dakota—all took the top five spots in Baking Bad.  
  • In a similar vein, nearly 100 municipalities in Maine have adopted food sovereignty ordinances that also let residents sell a broad array of food—even fish and seafood—within the town’s jurisdiction.  
  • California, Utah, and Wyoming have also adopted laws allowing the sale of home cooked meals made with beef, pork, and other meat products. Since using a home kitchen has significantly lower start-up costs compared to a brick-and-mortar establishment or a food truck, these state laws create an alternative pathway for budding restaurateurs.  

The Institute for Justice, through its nationwide Food Freedom Initiative, seeks to reform and challenge laws that interfere with the ability of people to make, buy, sell, eat, grow or advertise different foods. Through litigation and model legislation, IJ has helped secure reforms in Arkansas, Alabama, California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Minnesota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Washington State, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. 

In 2017, IJ authored the nation’s first comprehensive survey of cottage food businesses, which showed that cottage food businesses serve as an important path to entrepreneurship for their owners, who are often lower-income women living in rural areas. Even a small amount of extra income from a cottage food business can be helpful to lower-income households struggling during the economic recovery from the pandemic. 

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