Small Acres – Part 3

100_5324Cottage Food Operation

During the second session at the Putting Small Acres to Work workshop series, I went to the one about the IL Cottage Food Law.  About two years ago, I attended a talk about the new law, but I wanted to see if anything had changed and to be certain I fully understood it.  The session was presented by Wes King of the Illinois Steward Alliance, who helped get this law passed.

This was kind of a big deal in Illinois, because before January 1, 2012, there wasn’t a clear law in place.  People who had been selling preserves, breads, etc., at farmers markets for years were suddenly being shut down because it had technically never been legal.  It just hadn’t been enforced.  When farmers markets grew in popularity, some health inspectors realized what was happening and were shutting down small mom-and-pop businesses – cutting off some of their income.  This law was made to again make it legal for these people to earn an income by selling home-baked goods.

The foods that can be made to sell by a cottage food operation are: high-acid jams, jellies and preserves, high-acid fruit butters, and baked goods such as breads, cookies, cakes, pies, and pastries.  Pies allowed are from high-acid fruits.  It may also sell dry herbs, dry herb blends, and dry tea blends intended for end-use consumption.  A cottage food operation may only sell products at a farmers market in Illinois and gross receipts from the sale of food allowed under the law may not exceed $25,000 in a single calendar year.

There are also specific labeling requirements – name and address, common name of the product, all ingredients listed in order of weight, date processed.  It also must state the following phrase:  “This product was produced in a home kitchen not subject to public health inspection that may also process common food allergens.”  A placard with this statement must also be displayed prominently at the point of sale.  Allergen labeling as specified in federal labeling requirements is also required.

The operation must also have a Food Service Sanitation Manager Certificate approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health.  The food does not need to be produced in a kitchen inspected and certified by the health department.  But, if you do have access to a certified kitchen you can produce any of the other foods that aren’t allowed by the Cottage Food Law.

I was glad that I attended this session because it gave me a better understanding of the work it took to get this law passed, and why some of the provisions are in place currently.  One of the parts of the law that is annoying to me is about being allowed to sell ONLY at farmers markets.  Wes explained that this law was meant to help create a stepping stone between a small at-home business and a full commercial business – which he said has been happening.  And THAT is exciting.  It allows people to start small, earn some money and save up to start a larger business, which benefits more than just the business owner.  If they allowed the items to be sold from the home, then it falls under the commercial business rules and it would all have to be produced in a commercial kitchen.  There are many people who hope this will change eventually, but it seems that these things always take a long time to change.

One of the people that sat in on this session mentioned that if a person wishes to build a commercial kitchen to NOT do it until you talk with the department of health FIRST.  It’s already an expensive job and if you do something wrong and it has to be fixed, it will cost even more.

Please, do NOT take this blog post as being comprehensive!  If you live in Illinois and wish to see if this is something you would like to do, you need more information!  Read the guidance document that the IDPH put together for local health departments to help them implement the law.  It is IDPH Technical Information Bulletin (TIB) #44.  This can be viewed by visiting the Illinois Stewardship Alliance’s Cottage Food Law page at  More information is available at by clicking on the “Policy Work” tab and looking at the resources there.  I also highly recommended building a relationship with your local/county health department early on so that you follow all the rules from the beginning to make it easier on yourself :)  If you live in another state, contact your local health department to see what laws are in place for a similar operation.