What is a Cottage Food?
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Are you contemplating turning your crops into value-added products this season? If so, you won't be alone. According to the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture, 506 Maryland farms produce value-added products. The laws applicable to value-added products vary depending on the food type, sales methods, and volume. This blog post, one in a series about farm-sourced value-added foods, will focus on the cottage food category of value-added foods.
What is a cottage food product?
A cottage food business is defined in Maryland regulation as a business that (a) produces or packages cottage food products in a residential kitchen, and (b) has annual revenues from the sale of cottage food products of $25,000 or less. A cottage food product is a non-potentially hazardous food that is sold, within the state of Maryland, directly to a consumer from a residence, at a farmers market, at a public event, by personal delivery, or by mail delivery; or directly to a retail food store. Cottage foods must be produced, pre-packaged, and labeled in the residence. The cottage food legal framework is enforced by the Maryland Department of Health (MDH).
What types of food are cottage foods?
The allowable cottage foods list is based on the food safety risk level associated with certain types of food. Some examples of foods that are considered cottage foods include:
Baked breads, cookies, and pastries without potentially hazardous topping or fillings:
Pies, turnovers, and fruit tarts from fruits with a natural pH of 4.6 or less
Bread, biscuits, tortillas, and muffins
Cakes and cupcakes
Hot-filled canned acid foods such as:
Fruit jelly, jam, and preserves from fruits with a natural pH of 4.6 or less
Fruit butters from apple, apricot, grape, peach, plum, prune, quince
Snacks such as popcorn/kettle corn, popcorn balls
Fruit leathers from fruits with a natural pH of 4.6 or less
Raw unflavored honey (raw agricultural product)
Check out this resource for a more exhaustive list of allowable products.
To produce and sell cottage food products containing alcohol, you should contact the local liquor control board to determine what is needed to sell the product and you must comply with Health General §21-214 if you offer a food product that is manufactured or sold that contains more than one-half of one percent of alcohol per volume.
What types of foods are not cottage foods?
Some examples of food that are not cottage foods include:
Baked goods that require any type of refrigeration (e.g., meringue pies, pecan pies, pumpkin pies, cheesecakes, cream, and custard pies, and pies and cakes or pastries with cream cheese/buttercream icings or fillings)
Banana, pumpkin, and zucchini breads
Focaccia-style breads with vegetables and/or cheeses
Sourdough or other fermented breads
Pumpkin and nut butters
Acidified foods/pickled products such as corn relish, pickles, salsa, pepper jelly, sauerkraut, barbeque sauce, mustard, or condiments
Cut fresh fruits and/or vegetables
Dehydrating, drying, or dry aging herbs and vegetables
Garlic and/or vegetable in oil mixtures
I am a cottage food producer, now what?
The owner of a qualifying cottage food business does not need a food processing license or health department review. The owner of a cottage food business, however, must comply with the cottage food labeling requirements and be careful that the business's annual revenue does not exceed the maximum sales limit (see above, $25,000).
Cottage foods must be labeled with the following:
The name and full mailing address of the business where the food is made. (A cottage food business may request a Department-issued unique identification number for use in place of the address).
The name of the cottage food product, the ingredients (and sub-ingredients) in descending order of the amount of each ingredient by weight, and the net weight/volume of the cottage food product.
Allergen information as specified by federal labeling requirements; “Major food allergen” includes milk; egg; fish such as bass, flounder, or cod; crustacea such as crab, lobster, or shrimp; tree nuts such as almonds, pecans, or walnuts; wheat; peanuts; soybeans; and any food ingredient that contains proteins derived from milk, egg, fish, crustacea, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, or soybeans.
Nutritional information as specified by federal labeling requirements, if any nutritional or health content claim is made about the product.
A printed statement in 10 point type or larger, in a color that provides a clear contrast to the background of the label: “Made by a cottage food business that is not subject to Maryland's food safety regulations.”
If you want to sell your cottage food products at a retail store, you must take the additional steps, outlined in this checklist, including completing the Cottage Food Business Request form, attending a safe food handling course, and adding the following to the product label: business phone number and email address and the date the product was made.
Cottage food businesses must also comply with all applicable county and municipal laws related to the preparation, processing, storage, and sale of cottage food products. It is advisable to contact your local health department in advance of participating in a farmers’ market or public event to make sure there aren't additional local requirements.
If a complaint is lodged against a cottage food product or business, the home kitchen will be subject to inspection by the local health department.
I am not sure if am a qualifying cottage food producer?
If you are not sure whether your business is a qualifying cottage food business, the MDH created a detailed and very helpful guide and decision tree resource to help you decide if your business qualifies. If you still have questions, contact either your local health department or the Maryland Department of Health at 410-767-8400 or email at email@example.com.