COVID Led to Massive Improvements in State Cottage Food Laws
Recent updates to already popular cottage food laws in a number of states will help home cooks connect in a variety of ways with more consumers. And that’s great news for everyone who cooks, eats, or both.
As I’ve detailed in my book and many columns, cottage food laws are a class of legislation that deregulates some food sales by eliminating the need for budding food entrepreneurs to lease expensive commercial kitchen space, thus allowing people of all stripes to sell homemade foods they produce in their home kitchens. In that way, cottage food laws enable people to help support themselves and their families while working from home. That’s particularly essential today because the Covid-19 pandemic has caused many Americans either to lose work—from bona fide chefs to talented home cooks who’ve been laid off from other fields—or required them to work from home.
While every state now has a cottage food law in place—welcome New Jersey!—the quality of these laws varies widely. Generally, state cottage food laws contain any number of limitations—as this 2018 Harvard Food Law & Policy Clinic report details—including rules for licensing, permitting, and inspection; labeling requirements; restrictions on the types of foods that may be sold; limitations on place of sale; and sales caps.
Given these potential restrictions, state cottage food laws can differ wildly, and are often crying out for improvement. A decade ago—in a Hit & Run blog post on “the many inane requirements of New York State’s cottage foods law”—I noted that though cottage food laws are generally good, there are elements to nearly every cottage food law that leave much to be desired.
That’s where the aforementioned recent improvements to a host of state laws come into play. Last week, for example, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker became the latest state executive around the country to ratify improvements to a state’s cottage food law. The updated Illinois law will expand the number and type of legal sales venues—which had been limited to farmers markets.
In Alabama, lawmakers recently amended the state’s existing cottage food law to eliminate the state’s low $20,000 sales cap for selling cottage foods, expand the list of foods that may be sold under the law, and lift a ban on on
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