Starting a Home Food Business in NC

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Cottage Food Laws in NCLate spring and early summer motivate many home cooks and bakers to sell food from their homes. If they frequently gift items they make, they may even hear others encourage them to sell their products at markets or online. But should you sell items made in your kitchen at home?

The short answer is yes and no. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as cut and dry as folks would like, and regulations vary from state to state. Food made in a home kitchen and sold to consumers is called “cottage food.” North Carolina doesn’t technically have cottage food laws in place, but NC law authorizes the production of low-risk foods in home kitchens under certain circumstances. Under the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) developed by the FDA, an inspection is required before selling food from a home kitchen. However, before an inspection occurs, one must decide which products to make and sell. Foods that can be prepared in a home kitchen are broken down into two categories: high-risk foods and low-risk foods. High-risk foods must be produced in a licensed commercial facility and include the following:

  • refrigerated or frozen products (including dairy products)
  • low-acid canned foods
  • seafood

Low-risk foods are considered safe for home production and include:

  • baked goods
  • jams and jellies
  • candies
  • pickles
  • acidified foods

Shelf-stable pickles, acidified foods, sauces and some liquids, are allowed, but these foods require laboratory testing. Contact North Carolina State University’s Food Science Department for testing information.

Inspection Key Requirements of Home Kitchens:

  • Food contact surfaces must be smooth and easy to clean
  • No pets in the home at any time
  • Restroom and hand washing facilities – must have hot and cold running water easily accessible from processing area
  • Kitchen sink is for food prep only, hand washing must be done in a separate sink
  • Thermometer must be kept in refrigerator to monitor temperature
  • Waste must be carried away from the house in an acceptable fashion (sewer or septic system)
  • All light bulbs in the kitchen must have protective shields or be shatter-proof
  • Well or spring water systems must be tested by a certified private company or the local health department. Results must be attached to the completed application for the inspection.

For more information about starting a home food business, visit the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.