Cottage foods can enhance your business
Adding value to your business by selling food? There are important factors to consider before starting.
Have you ever thought about selling food as a supplement to your business? You can add value to the customer experience this way; however, there are many things to consider when adding food to your business' product offerings.
What are cottage foods?
Cottage foods are foods that are shelf stable, meaning they do not require refrigeration or heat to keep them safe for consumption. Cottage foods must be made in a home kitchen. Each state has their own rules about making and selling cottage foods, but keeping food safe is the same everywhere. Here is a small sample list of foods that are considered cottage foods (in Michigan):
- Baked goods such as cookies, breads, quick breads and muffins.
- Canned fruit jams or jellies.
- Fruit pies.
- Cakes and cupcakes.
- Popcorn and nuts (coated or uncoated).
- Chocolate covered items, such as pretzels, fruit or marshmallows.
- Dried pasta, dried herbs or herb mixes.
Labeling cottage foods
Labels provide written communication between you and your customer, so when producing cottage foods, creating a label is very important. Just like commercial manufacturers, you will need to list:
- The name of the product.
- The name and address of the location it was made.
- Ingredients by weight in descending order.
- Any allergens that may be present.
- The weight or volume of the product.
Many states also require a statement on the label that indicates that this product was "made in a home kitchen not inspected by [the local or state authorities]." If you struggle with the size of this label after including all of this information, get creative. For instance, you could make two labels or even a tag attached to the product, just as long as it is visible for the customer to read and meets state regulations.
Food safety considerations
As with any food product, providing safe food free of any foodborne illness should be your goal. That all begins in your kitchen. Always wash, rinse and sanitize your counters, tables and all equipment that will be used to produce your cottage food. Proper mixing of the sanitizer is important, too weak of a mixture will not do a good job of sanitizing, while too concentrated could make people sick. You can purchase pre-mixed sanitizers, just be sure to read the label to know if they can be used on a food contact surface. Keeping your pets out of the kitchen while you are processing your product is necessary, as well as washing your hands often. You can never be too careful when it comes to food safety.
Another important item to consider when it comes to producing cottage foods is the packaging. You might have a great idea or gimmick that will catch customers attention, but it may not be food safe. Only package food in containers that are meant to contain food. Safe food packaging will say “food safe.” Some packaging may fit your budget or your ideas, but may leach toxic metals or chemicals into your food. So look for packaging that fits your product and identifies that it is safe for food.
Depending on the state that you live in, cottage food laws can be very different. For example, there are differences with limits on total sales, labeling, type of foods that are considered cottage foods, forms of payment and distribution methods. Become familiar with your state laws and check with the regulating agency before starting, as some items may require a license. A good place to start is with your local health department or the state food inspectors to find out more. Cottage foods can increase your income and add value to the experience you provide to others.
MSU Extension can help you learn about cottage foods to enhance your business. Visit our Cottage Food Law website for more information and to learn about upcoming events in your area.