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I recently made my first attempt at baking macarons, the Parisian delicacy that’s hard to come by in the U.S. and notorious for being finicky to make. As I waited for the crispy cookie shells to bake in the oven, I took in the almond flour scent and imagined a blissful life running a macaron production line, spending my time surrounded by the pastel morsels, and feeding them to happy family and friends and customers.

Once I admitted this was probably not actually an ideal career path (so much standing on my feet!), I did stop to wonder if it would be possible–if I could perfect the technique–to make macarons and sell them around town on occasion as a fun side hobby.

It used to be that if you had a fabulous method for for vanilla cupcakes or macarons or peanut butter cookies, and your friends or neighbors wanted to get their hands on a dozen, you had two options to bake and sell: 1) get a commercial kitchen license or rent out a commercial kitchen in order to comply with health code regulations, or 2) do it illegally under the table from home (metaphorically speaking).

Fortunately for people like me and anyone else interested in dabbling in the baking business without renting a restaurant kitchen, Cottage Food laws have spread across the country in the past few years. Currently pending in states like California and South Carolina, and already in place in states from Oregon to Maine, these laws are a departure from the regulation of all things edible, allowing home bakers to bake from home and sell their goods to the public under certain circumstances.

Though the laws vary by state, they usually set the following conditions:

1) Paperwork. Although the general idea is to keep state regulators out of your business, some states may require an inspections process of your home kitchen in order to get started up. You may also have to pay a home bakery registration fee.

2) What you can sell. In most cases, only baked goods considered “non-hazardous”–things like cookies and cakes that aren’t likely to harbor food-borne illnesses–are allowed by the laws.

3) Where you can sell. In stricter states, you may only be able to sell your home-baked goods directly out of your home. Other states with more lenient laws allow home bakers to sell at public venues like local farmer’s markets.

4) Labeling. As a form of consumer protection, most laws require labeling on home-baked products specifying that they were made in a home kitchen not regulated by the state’s department of agriculture. Some states also require a list of any allergens (peanuts, wheat, etc.) contained in the item. Others require a list of ingredients by weight, similar to standard food labeling for commercial food.

5) Profit limits. Many Cottage Food laws limit the total amount of sales a home baker can do in a year–typically somewhere in the low thousands. Anything over the limit and you’ll need to set up a commercial kitchen like other larger-scale operations.

Though the laws have been met with much rejoicing by bakers hoping to boost their economic situation, they aren’t without controversy: food safety groups and consumer protection advocates are up in arms in many states, worried that home baking will put consumers at risk. They do have a point. If you wanted, you could whip up your cupcakes in a dirty kitchen with sick children in the house, use improper food handling precautions, and then wrap those up in a pretty box and pass them off to an unsuspecting customer. Don’t do that.

To get your own home bakery operation started, find more information about your state’s laws below.

Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii
Idaho
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland 
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey   
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina 

South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington 
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming


Mary Jane

I live in Oklahoma and want to start a business from my home. The cost is astronomical. I have been reading up on cottage food laws. I contacted my representative and he is willing to help. I began to speak to people asking them to sign a petition. It requires 4000 signatures. It was 3,000, now it is up to 4,000. There are 37 states that have the cottage food law. We are not one of them. We would really appreciate anyone signing our petition. We have no bakeries in our area, nor places to buy home baked goods. I am excited, because I really like to bake and want to give back to my community. If there is any way you could help me, please let me know. Thank you.

by Mary Jane on September 23, 2012
jenniebartlemay

 That's great that you're getting signatures! It sounds like you're on the way to getting some change going in your area. Please keep us updated! 

by jenniebartlemay on October 1, 2012
Mary Jane Newlon

We have now gotten the Oklahoma Cottage Food Law passed thanks to a lot of help from people in the State as well as the Lord. We have worked very hard and it goes into effect November 1, 2013. If you are interested in what it entails check Law #1094 from the House of Representatives. Rep. Dustin Roberts helped us get this passed. You can make up to $20,000 a year.

by Mary Jane Newlon on June 2, 2013
Anonymous

I can't seem to find anything about selling online, to other states. I see many people doing it on Etsy, but I don't know what the rules are. I'm thinking of baking vegan and gluten-free cookies to sell online. Any suggestions?

by Anonymous on November 14, 2013
jenniebartlemay

 Hi there. I poked around a little bit. It looks like whether you can sell online may depend on what state you live. Check the rules for your individual state, and if they're nonspecific, then give your food safety department a call. 

by jenniebartlemay on November 18, 2013
Anonymous

Hi I've been in the kitchen and loving it since I can remember. My father was the cook in the house...although mom was the best baker. Still I watched anxiously an interestedly in awesome how they both took such pride in their preparing the area...(cleaning the oven more often then I can remember, along with a spic and span kitchen they made I and my siblings keep clean. My mom used to sing as she prepared the dough the night before and it made the whole house smell like a bakery. And this was before it was even placed in the oven the next day. But she made the best baked bread, cakes and cookies that I can remember. None store brought (if you dared) were ever as tasty as my moms.

My dad was the fresh veggie preparer. Collard greens, Kale, broccoli, carrots, potatoes etc...all fresh, fresh, and yes fresh. He hated anything canned...So when I decided to start a family it was thru many trials and errors before I came close to my parents cooking perfection skills. I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. Then one day I decided to stop trying to emulate their techniques and develop my own...but still using their kitchen cleaning methods that my own children followed. Well today folks tell me Im such a great cook. I've even started baking and that has turned out great as well...or so my family and friends tell me. Its just a hobby for me, but I do enjoy it so much and it also always gives me an opportunity to commemorate the great cooking memory works for my parents...I would love to do more with my skills but don't have a clue to start...I live in Maryland and the laws are confusingly strict can you help?

by Anonymous on April 6, 2014
missylacock

Thanks for the question! No wonder you want to turn an enjoyable hobby into something more: You've got cooking in your blood. Unfortunately, Maryland restricts cottage food businesses to farmers markets and events and limits those sales to $25,000. The good news is there are no liscences or fees, so bake away and haul your goods to a Saturday farmers market or a public event. For more information about allowed foods, labeling, and more resources, check out http://cottagefoods.org/laws/usa/maryland/. Good luck! 

by missylacock on May 20, 2014

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