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sell food online

What Permissions Do You Need to Sell Food From Home?

9 min read

Have you ever wondered if you could turn your scrumptious homemade baked goods or Christmas gift-go-tos into a lucrative side hustle? Selling food from home, whether online or just at your local farmer’s market, comes with some caveats. Having great products to sell is just the start of a larger journey towards business success. Starting a home food business also requires you to follow local cottage food laws, obtain necessary licenses and permits, and follow proper food safety guidelines.

Unlike selling other products from your house, selling food comes with unique obstacles and hurdles you have to overcome. Scared? Don’t be! We’re here to help.

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License and Permit Requirements

Before you start selling food from your home kitchen, you may be required to obtain a business license and a food handler’s permit. A business license is not always necessary to start your business (this all depends on your state’s laws).

Many states and municipalities require you to obtain a general business license to operate your business, which simply requires you to fill out general information, such as the business address and contact information. Make sure you keep track of your sales even if you do not need a business license in your state because all states require you to pay taxes. If you plan to take your sales online, you do not need to worry about getting a business license in every state, you just need a business license from the state you are operating in.

You will also need to get a food handlers’ permit from your state. Normally you will be required to pay a small fee and take a short course in order to do this. You will then have to recertify your education every couple of years by either retaking an updated version of the course or a supplemental course.

Here are some examples of a few states and their business license requirements:

  • New York requires you to register your business name if you plan to do business under another name other than your legal name. You will need to register for taxes with the Tax Department as well. Like many states you will need to check with your local authorities depending on which city and county you live in to make sure you are following local authorities laws as well.
  • New Mexico does not require you to register a Doing Business As (“DBA”) name. However, they do have many local municipalities that regulate the licenses and permits that you need. Like virtually all states you will need to register your business with the tax department.
  • Texas has been recognized as one of the best states to start a business in, as the barrier for entry is very low. You don’t have to have a general business license in Texas to start your operations.
  • California requires you to file for a DBA name and get a resale permit. California also requires that you run a 4-week announcement of your DBA name in your local newspaper. You will still need to check your local laws as well because the licenses required could change depending on which city and county you live in.

Cottage Food Laws

Cottage food laws aren’t just for people selling food in cottages (unfortunately!). Rather, they apply to individuals who want to make an income selling food from their home kitchen.

So, before selling any products that come from your home kitchen you will need to do some research. Cottage food laws vary from state to state so make sure you look up your local laws. Cottage food laws are normally enforced by your local health department or state department of agriculture, either of these state department websites will usually be the extent of research you need to do.

Generally, cottage food laws require that you obtain a business license, a food-handling permit, and undergo a kitchen inspection by your local health department. Additionally, if you sell food products that you make in your home kitchen you will need to label the products as such. Again, what is required to be in the label depends on your state laws.

Cottage food laws limit the kinds of foods that you can sell. You will most likely be limited to foods that will not produce food-borne illnesses. This normally includes things such as meats, certain dairy products, cheesecake, and poultry. However, you are free to sell your homemade baked goods, jams, and jellies. You can also sell your favorite beverages like coffees and teas.

If the products you make are outside the scope of the cottage food laws, don’t worry! You can still sell them, you will just have to meet some additional requirements. You may have to cook your foods in a commercial kitchen (note that you can usually rent out a space that would meet the commercial kitchen standards determined by your local health department). You may also have to meet additional health inspection requirements and need additional licensing to make sure you are complying with commercial food manufacturing laws.

Some state cottage food laws also limit the income you can make by selling food from your home. Once you reach a certain income level you may be required to comply with commercial food manufacturing laws.

Take Your Sales Online

Once you get all your licensing requirements and other legal requirements taken care of you can start expanding your business online. If you decide to use an online marketplace, you need to make sure to comply with their terms and conditions.

Selling homemade food products on Etsy, for example, is pretty easy. They do not require any additional requirements other than to make sure you are following local laws and regulations. Etsy does recommend checking with the shipping company to make sure that the goods you plan on shipping are allowed by the company. Some shipping companies may not accept certain goods for various reasons, so it is important to make sure whether you choose UPS, USPS, or FEDEX your goods will be accepted and shipped.

If you are thinking about selling food through Amazon, you’ll need to make sure to follow a couple of additional guidelines. Similar to Etsy, Amazon requires that you are in compliance with local laws, and have all federal and state required licenses and permits. Amazon has a couple of additional labeling requirements, mainly in regards to expiration dates.

For example, if you sell foods that will go bad, you must make sure that when they are delivered your products will have an additional shelf life after they arrive to your customer. If you sell a multipack of your product, then the expiration dates must match on all the units. You will want to make sure you follow Amazon’s policies correctly. Failure to do so can result in you being barred from selling your food products on Amazon’s website.

You can also make your own website to sell through, with the help of an ecommerce platform such as Ecwid. If you decide to go this route you will need to make sure you are following all your local laws and are properly shipping your products. But we highly recommend looking into an ecommerce solution to give you the most freedom in selling your products, promoting them, and saving money on shipping labels.

No matter which way you choose to sell food from home, we hope this article was helpful, and wish you the best of luck on getting your delicious goods out into the world!

Do you want to learn more about selling food online?

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About the author

Max has been working in the ecommerce industry for the last six years helping brands to establish and level-up content marketing and SEO. Despite that, he has experience with entrepreneurship. He is a fiction writer in his free time.

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