The DC Cottage Food Laws Act of 2013 allows residents of the District of Columbia (D.C.) to register as a Cottage Food Business and prepare certain foods from their residential kitchens and sell them at farmers markets and public events.
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HOW TO START YOUR COTTAGE FOOD BUSINESS IN DC – LICENSING
- Home Occupancy Permit (https://business.dc.gov/quick/1457) from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA)
- Proof of calibrated scale(s) if your food will be sold by weight from the Office of Weights and Measures at DCRA
- Certified Food Protection Manager’s Certification (CFPM)
- DC-Issued Certified Protection Manager ID-Card, Issued by DC Health based on your CFPM Certification
- Submit a Cottage Food Business Registry Application DC Health at 899 North Capitol, St. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002 including a review fee of $50.00 to DC Health in the form of check, money order, cash, or credit/debit. Make checks payable to DC Treasurer.
Always contact your local city / county office and verify if a business license is required prior to starting.
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DC COTTAGE FOOD LAWS – Foods That Are Allowed
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PRE-APPROVED COTTAGE FOODS – NO TESTING REQUIRED
Real Life Cottage Food Entrepreneurs and Opportunities
- Cakes – teacher turns kitchen into bakery
- Doughnuts – cottage mini donut vendor
- Fruit jams and jellies – See Additional Requirements Here
- Kettle corn – real kettle corn vendors from home
- Popcorn (plain and flavored) – see a real home vendor here
- Talk and Join hundreds of others here: VendorsUnited.com
DC COTTAGE FOOD LAWS – PROHIBITED FOODS
DC doesn’t maintain a list on the cottage food laws that are prohibited. Assume anything not on the above list as prohibited until you verify and get approval.
Most states prohibit any food that is potentially hazardous or requires refrigeration.
On the D.C. Cottage Food Business Registry Application there is a place to request other foods to be approved along with instructions for submitting proof of pH testing. (more info in testing section below)
NOTE: Although eggs, milk and dairy products are not allowed, used as ingredients for the allowed foods – is acceptable.
Many prohibited foods that are baked or cooked into the allowed foods are rendered harmless and therefore allowed.
HOW MUCH ARE YOU ALLOWED TO MAKE WITH COTTAGE FOODS?
D.C. limits cottage food establishments to no more than $25,000 annual income. This is to encourage opening your own commercial retail establishment.
However in 2017, the NAACP along with Dreaming OUT Loud, Inc. petitioned for expanding the maximum to $50,000 (a more realistic figure) – The state denied it.
Colorado created a brochure on going beyond cottage food once you’ve outgrown or hit your maximum allowed income. Although this is D.C., this may help you make a plan to grow too!
ACIDITY LEVELS AND TESTING
Most states determine if a food is non-potentially hazardous by the acidity level found in the food. The higher the acidity, the more stable at a range of temps, that food product is.
For example: milk is low acidity and requires temperature controls. Delaware can require testing if pH / acidity level is unknown.
The acidity of foods is measured by pH.
• The range of pH is commonly considered to extend from zero to 14. A pH value of 7 is neutral because pure water has a pH value of exactly 7. Values less than 7 are considered acidic, while those greater than 7 are considered basic or alkaline.
• All fruits are acidic foods and are usually tart and sour. Ex: tomato, lemon, peach, apple, etc.
• The FDA rule for acidic foods states that a food must have a pH below 4.6 to be sold as a minimally processed food.
• The reason for this is bacteria does not grow at this level of acidity.
• The exclusion shall not be construed as allowing the sale of low acid foods (pH > 4.6) in
hermetically sealed containers (i.e. home-canned green beans, peas, etc.) when such
food is not prepared in a permitted establishment.
Some states require testing if the pH level is unknown. For many food products, the pH level is already known.
You can test for pH yourself using a pH spear tester. (make sure it is made for food and has a long spear tip).
Oklahoma State University shares an awesome guide for selecting the correct tester for foods and liquids which includes tips and tricks for operation and maintenance. Get The Guide Here.
DC pH / ACIDITY TESTING
D.C. has a list of pre-approved foods they allow to be prepared in your home kitchen for sale to the public.
However, if the food item you’d like to serve isn’t on that list, you can have the food item tested at a State Accredited Lab. Contact: 202-535-2180 or by email: [email protected]
DC COTTAGE FOOD LAWS LABELING REQUIREMENTS
Most states require labeling on any product produced at a home kitchen. However, even if your state doesn’t require labeling, this is your chance to stand out and show you care.
D.C. cottage food laws require labeling on all products made under the cottage food law.
- Cottage food business identification number
- Name of the cottage food product
- Ingredients of the cottage food product in descending order or amount of each ingredient by weight
- Net weight or net volume of the cottage food product
- Allergen information as specified by federal labeling requirements in 21 CFR Section 101, Food Labeling, if the cottage food product is made from foods including but not limited to: eggs, milk, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts (such as pecans, almonds, cashews, pistachios, and walnuts), soybeans, fish (such as bass, flounder, cod), and crustacean shellfish (such as crabs, shrimp, and lobsters)
- If any nutritional claim is made, nutritional information as specified by federal labeling requirements in 21 CFR Part 101, Food Labeling and 9 CFR Part 317, Subpart B, Nutrition Labeling
- A statement printed in 10-point font or larger type with in a color that provides clear contrast to the background of the label that reads:
Made by a cottage food business that is not subject to the District of Columbia’s food safety regulations.
Below is an example of what the state of Arizona requires on their labels.
Using VistaPrint.com or similar – you can quickly create professional labels that not only serve to meet the state cottage food guidelines but also serve for marketing your awesome business and products.
You’ll find some fantastic examples of this from members inside VendorsUnited.com
ALLERGENS ON LABELING
The FDA lists eight (8) major food allergens. Listing any of these on your label is a smart business practice and will certainly help your customers choose a product.
- Fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod)
- Crustacean shellfish (e.g., crab, lobster, shrimp)
- Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans)
Simply add to your label: “NOTICE: SOYBEANS USED IN THIS RECIPE” Some go as far to announce that a certain allergen is used in the same kitchen.
Some states require you list any potential allergens and potential for any cross contamination even if the allergen is not used in the recipe.
FDA Allergen Labeling Example: Contains Wheat, Milk, Egg, and Soy
WHERE CAN I SELL MY COTTAGE FOOD PRODUCTS
D.C. Cottage Food Laws restrict cottage food sales from you to the end user only. They can not be wholesaled for re-sale.
Inside kitchenincome.com you can find out how many cottage food entrepreneurs are getting sales faster than they can make the food.
Internet sales and mail order sales of cottage food products are prohibited; however a cottage food business owner may advertise via the internet.
FOOD HANDLER TRAINING AND BEST PRACTICES
D.C. APPROVED FOOD MANAGER COURSES / TRAINING
You must complete a food safety training program that includes training in food processing and packaging.
These online food safety courses can be completed quickly. A list of approved training option including online training can be found here.
Much of this may seem like common sense, but even if you already know, it’s a good idea to remind yourself with a list of things that can prevent you from missing something small.
And if for no other reason… CYA! CYA = Cover Your A#%
CLEAN WORK AREA / WORK SPACE / SANITIZATION
Providing safe to eat foods from your kitchen – starts in your kitchen.
Keep your area clean and sanitized to avoid cross contamination and to insure you provide your customers and clients with the safest and best foods they can get.
The following are some “common” sense things you can do to insure the best environment for preparing foods to sell:
- Keep all equipment and surface areas clean and sanitized
- Make sure window and door screens are bug proof with no gaps
- Keep ingredients separate to prevent cross contamination / e.g. raw eggs near flour
- No pets in work area and preferably none in the home
- Allow no-one with a cold, sniffles or sick in kitchen while preparing foods
- Wipe down walls and clean floors daily
- Use good lighting to avoid missing unclean areas
- Keep window and door screens in good repair to keep insects out
- Wash hands frequently while working and use food grade gloves for extra safety
- Keep areas of food storage and equipment storage clean and sanitized
Why keep these types of records?
Let’s say the inspector calls you and says they got a report that your banana bread, someone purchased, made them sick.
You’ll be able to show that you didn’t even make banana bread that week and that the person who reported you, bought that 4 weeks ago and you weren’t even the one that sold it to him.
This does not need to be complicated. I love my yellow legal pads and they make an inexpensive tool for keeping up with the following:
- The recipes you use including ingredients
- The process you use to prepare that specific recipe: (can be just like recipe instructions)
- Date made (can be coded for your own use only if your state doesn’t require the production date) e.g. Made 12.22.29 = 292212
- Date sold (you can have a batch code to help track a certain batch) Simply write down date you sold an item
- Location sold is another great piece of information to keep track of
- Sales receipts are something great to keep for a couple of reasons and over at KitchenIncome.com I dive into the best practices, best systems and best methods for tracking, managing, selling and shipping.
COTTAGE FOOD lIABILITY INSURANCE
We live in a society that likes to sue. I can sue you for wearing that color shirt. No kidding!
Of course I probably won’t win, but at the very least, it’s gonna cause you stress and some costs.
Liability insurance is a MUST.
It can be expensive – but several years ago, I found FLIP and by far, they gave me the most protection (coverage) and allow you to run your cottage food business without fear of being sued.
WHY? Because they provide the lawyers. And their lawyers… they are good!
Of course you should price shop around with your local agent or a national brand company, but rest assured, I’ve done all the legwork for you.
Alternatively, some folks opt to get bonded. You’ve heard the saying before: “licensed and bonded”. A bond is usually provided from an insurance bonding company or your own insurance company.
My first time, I got a bond at State Farm.
A bond is expensive comparatively but is less out of pocket in the beginning. Of course, it’s way, way less insurance / coverage too.
A $10,000 bond may cost $50 annually while a $2,000,000.00 liability policy may cost a few hundred a year.
No matter what you decide… knowing you’re insured against frivolous lawsuits is worth every penny.
DC COTTAGE FOOD LAWS QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
DC COTTAGE FOOD LAWS IMPORTANT LINKS
- D.C. Cottage Food Code
- D.C. Department of Health – Cottage Food Laws Frequently Asked Questions
- District of Columbia Cottage Food Laws
- D.C. Certified Food Protection Manager Testing and Instructions
- Instructions for obtaining your CFPM “Certified Food Protection Manager” – ID Card
- Application for D.C. CFPM card
- IMPORTANT INFORMATION For D.C. Cottage Food Business Registry Applicants
- D.C. Cottage Food Business Checklist
- D.C. Certificate of Occupancy Application & Instructions
- D.C. Cottage Food Business Registry Application
CONTACT D.C. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
899 North Capitol Street NE
2nd Fl, Washington, DC 20002
P 202-535-2180 | F 202-535-1359 | dchealth.dc.gov
UPDATES TO DC COTTAGE FOOD LAWS
From time to time, links, info, rules and numbers change, are updated or made obsolete.
Although I spend time daily with hundreds of vendors (many of which are cottage food businesses) – I can miss an update.
If you find a broken link, outdated information or any other issue… please let me know and I’ll send you a special gift for helping me maintain the best site on the internet for the cottage food industry.
My goal has always been to have a central place that is absolutely free for those starting out or existing entrepreneurs who use their homes and kitchens to make real incomes.
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This information is provided to help those interested in starting a cottage food business. It is not a document made by the state government. This information is not provided as law nor should be construed as law. Always use the contact information for each state to confirm compliance and any changes.
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