How to sell your homemade food under Missouri cottage laws

Home producers can sell a number of items, including baked goods, jams, jellies and dried goods.

This past June, Gov. Mike Parson approved House Bill 1697 into law, which allows cottage food producers to sell their products online, joining 43 other states and the District of Columbia. This bill expanded upon Senate Bill 525 signed into law in 2014, which allows bakers to sell products they make in their home kitchens directly to consumers.

Cottage food programs have various distinctions from state to state. Vox spoke with the experts to explain what cottage food programs are, why they exist and what restrictions exist in Missouri.

What are cottage food laws?

A cottage food law is the state government opening up opportunities for people to sell food goods without having to go through the scrutiny of Food and Drug Administration regulations and approval processes to sell those goods. 

What is the purpose of cottage food laws or other food regulations?

Food regulations, such as food handler license requirements or health department grading, protect the public from unsanitary food, which can lead to breakouts of foodborne illnesses such as E. coli.

In addition to safety concerns, consumers want to know what is in their food. According to a 2020 report conducted by the Food Industry Association and Label Insight, 81% of shoppers find food transparency important or extremely important to them.

Cottage food laws have been passed to lower barriers for small sellers — for example removing licensing or commercial kitchen requirements. The theory behind lifting these barriers is that it will increase entrepreneurship and allow more people to become sellers in the food market while encouraging food transparency.

How to sell your homemade food under Missouri cottage laws

While some states have different regulations, in Missouri, homemade food products must be sold directly to the consumer, whether online or in-person.

One such example of this entrepreneurship is Vee Groesbeck. Groesbeck lives in Columbia and started Vee’s Goodies in August. While Groesbeck has baked for over 30 years, these new laws allow her to sell baked goods and stay at home. “(Cottage food) laws have allowed me to work from home and give me the freedom to be with my six kids,” Groesbeck says.

How common are cottage food laws?

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have some type of cottage food program.

What products can be sold under cottage food laws in Missouri?

In Missouri, the law allows baked goods, jellies, jams, dried herbs and herb mixes be sold by cottage food producers. Any baked goods that need refrigeration, contain meat, are acidified or pickled, are low-acid canned goods or fermented cannot be sold by under cottage law rules.

What other restrictions exist in Missouri on cottage food producers?

While there are 35 states that allow cottage food producers to deliver their products via mail, Missouri is not one of them. Though products may be sold online, they must be delivered via home delivery or pickup. Twenty-two other states allow cottage food producers to sell their products in grocery stores and restaurants. Missouri does not allow this.

Do I need a food handler’s license or training before I sell my homemade food?

No, Missouri does not require that cottage food producers have government permits, inspections or training. Lisa Cox, the communications director for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, says there is no license or certification required as long as the operation falls within the specific stipulations of a cottage food production operation. “We always encourage interested parties to reach out to their local health jurisdiction as they are the ones determining if an operation falls within the regulations,” Cox said in an email to Vox.

As a cottage food producer in Missouri, do I need to label my homemade foods?

Even as a cottage food, labels are still required as a processed packaged food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a processed food as any food that has undergone a change to its natural state, such as washing, milling, chopping or pasteurizing. For cottage foods, these labels must identify the name and address of the manufacturer/processor of the food, common name of the food, all the ingredients in order of predominance, net weight of the food and a statement that the product is not prepared in a kitchen subject to inspection by the Missouri Department of Health.

How can I start selling my own homemade foods?

To sell your own cottage food in Missouri, you must sell your product directly to the consumer, which can include either an online sale or a farmers market setting.

Municipalities may require cottage food producers to have a business license. Columbia does require sellers to have a business license to sell homemade goods under cottage food laws.

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