Cottage food laws have been passed in 31 American states, including Texas, Florida, and New York. Nine states have pending cottage food laws, at various stages of debate and approval. The gist of these laws is the same (though the details of the legislation vary greatly): they allow individuals to cook low-risk food items in their homes and sell and distribute them to the public.
The impetus behind the law is a removal of the major stumbling block for start-up food entrepreneurs: access to a commercial kitchen. A certified commercial kitchen in most major centres will run you at least $20/hour.
The laws, depending on where you live in the US, stipulate allowable foods: pies, jams, flavoured vinegars, herb mixes, or dehydrated fruits and vegetables, among others. The commonality lies in the fact that the approved foods must pose a minimal consumption risk.
Home food processors sometimes have to pay a small permit fee, either annually or one-time only, which can be anywhere from $30 to $300. Some states, like Texas, put a cap on the income that a home food processor can make on an annual basis. Texas sets that cap at $50,000/year. Others, like Minnesota, basically guarantee that the home producing business will stay a supplementary source of income, with a cap of $5,000/year.
In terms of whom a producer can sell to, some states allow only direct-to-consumer distribution, while in others an individual can conduct online sales, or sales to grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and restaurants.
Logistically, how could it work in Canada? First, home producers could be required to have a food handler’s certificate, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to consider a ‘no pets’ rule. There could be mandatory cleaning processes instituted for every home kitchen, and potentially spot checks by health inspectors. Individuals with approved home kitchens could receive the equivalent of a DineSafe certificate, similar to those issued to restaurants once they’ve met public health criteria; this certification could be displayed in all marketing materials and be available for review at any time by the public.
Labeling requirements could inform the customer that a product had indeed been produced in an approved home kitchen. Instituting a reasonable cap on annual income would mean that your home business could only get so big before you have to get into the ring with the brick and mortar businesses, which makes good sense from an economic competitiveness perspective.
All this to say, with the right checks and balances, cottage food laws could work in Canada. They would provide viable economic opportunities for a growing community of food entrepreneurs, all chomping at the bit to throw their hat (or pie, in this case) in the ring.