What exactly is ‘cottage food?’

Tony Nye - OSU Extension

A February thaw that many of us have been waiting for is upon us with almost spring-like temperatures, so I do not want to hear any complaints of all the mud now. I am sure it won’t last, but enjoy and use it as a reminder spring is near. Besides, that old groundhog said we would get an early spring.

As the leader for small farm programs at Ohio State University, I get many phone calls from folks wanting to learn more about production, as well as marketing what they produce from a small farm.

Adding value to a small production system can come in many ways. Some of this added value may come in the way of such things as jams and jellies and many other items. But beware, not all value added items we can produce fall in to this category. A prime example of what is not a cottage food item is salsa.

In Ohio, thanks to our cottage food law, there are certain types of low risk food products you may produce and sell right out of your home kitchen with no inspection or licensing requirements. This is perfect for anyone who wants to test the market for their food product without the risk of investing a lot of money in a storefront.

So what is a cottage food according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA)? Only food products that are non-potentially hazardous fall into the cottage food category. Ohio Administrative Code Section 901:3-20-04 lists the food items approved as cottage food products. This list is very specific and includes the following food products:

Non-potentially hazardous bakery products (such as cookies, breads, brownies, cakes, and fruit pies), jams, jellies, candy (including no-bake cookies, chocolate covered pretzels or similar chocolate covered non-perishable items), fruit butters, granola, granola bars, granola bars dipped in candy, kettle corn, popcorn balls, caramel corn (does not include un-popped popping corn), unfilled, baked donuts, waffle cones, pizzelles, dry cereal and nut snack mixes with seasonings, roasted coffee, whole beans or ground, dry baking mixes in a jar (for making items like breads and cookies), dry herbs and herb blends, dry seasoning blends (such as dry barbeque rubs and seafood boils), and dry tea blends.

Peggy Hall, OSU Extension Ag Law Specialist posted on her ag law blog that the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) has revised regulations that implement Ohio’s Cottage Food Law, which addresses the production and sale of certain “non-potentially hazardous” foods. An operation producing a “cottage food” may do so without licensing and inspection by ODA, but must follow labeling requirements and is subject to potential food sampling by ODA.

Changes to Ohio’s cottage food regulations include the following:

New cottage food products

Several new food items have joined the list of cottage food products that an operator may produce without licensing or inspection by ODA:

Flavored honey produced by a beekeeper, if a minimum of 75% of the honey is from the beekeeper’s own hives;

Fruit chutneys;

Maple sugar produced by a maple syrup processor, if at least 75% of the sap used to make the maple syrup is collected directly from trees by the processor;

Waffle cones dipped in candy;

Dry soup mixes containing commercially dried vegetables, beans, grains, and seasonings.

Foods that are not cottage food products

Hall notes there are two revisions to clarify foods that do not fall under the cottage food law:

Fresh fruit that is dipped, covered, or otherwise incorporated with candy; popping corn, fruit in granola products.

If adding fruit to granola, granola bars, or granola bars dipped in candy, which are all cottage food products, the fruit must be commercially dried.

The new regulations became effective January 22, 2016. View the cottage food regulations at http://codes.ohio.gov/oac/901%3A3-20. You can read other very important related post about Food Law by going to http://aglaw.osu.edu/blog-categories/food.

If there is a specific food product you want to produce in your home but it is not in the cottage food definition, you may need to obtain a home bakery license. For an explanation of home bakery products and requirements for home bakery licenses you can go to the ag law site previously mentioned.

If the food item you want to produce is not in the cottage food or home bakery definitions, then you likely need to produce the product in a facility licensed by the Ohio Department of Agriculture or local county health department. For example, salsas, BBQ sauces, canned vegetables, frozen foods and homemade hummus must be produced in a licensed facility.

Specifically, salsas, BBQ sauces, and canned vegetables must be produced in a licensed cannery facility. Licensing information for these types of food products is available on the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

Peggy Hall suggests if you want to produce a home-based food product, first review these questions:

Is the food product in Ohio’s definition of “cottage foods?” If so, you do not need a license.

If the food product is not a “cottage food,” is it a “home bakery” product? If so, you will need to obtain a home bakery license and pass a home kitchen inspection.

If the food product is not a “cottage food” or “home bakery” product, is there another licensed facility where you can produce the product? You cannot produce the food in your home; unless you are able to use a facility that already has a license, you must obtain the appropriate license from the Ohio Department of Agriculture or your county health department.

Tony Nye is the state coordinator for the Ohio State University Extension Small Farm Program and has been an OSU Extension Educator for agriculture and natural resources for 28 years, currently serving Clinton County and the Miami Valley EERA.


Tony Nye

OSU Extension