Here’s What You Need to Know to Start a Food Business From Home

Amid the pandemic, some out-of-work people have started food businesses in their homesusing handwritten flyers and Instagram accounts to advertise their wares.

These underground businesses can supplement income in uncertain times, but they’re often operating in a legally gray area, and that could lead to fines from local health departments. Going legit takes time, but it can help scale your food business from underground sales to farmer’s markets, online marketplaces or local stores.

While every state treats home-based food businesses a bit differently, here’s what you’ll need to look into to take the next steps with your food business.

Check State and Local Laws

When I opened my small-batch confectionary in Massachusetts, I needed to have my apartment kitchen certified as a Retail Residential Kitchen. The application process was time-consuming: I had to read the entire federal food code, become ServSafe Certified in food handling, describe the items I planned to make and how they’d be processed and packaged, and have my kitchen inspected (I sweated this one, but I passed).

This process is likely different for every state in the country. Search “retail residential kitchen for (name of state) to find the regulations for your location.

Massachusetts law only allows for home production of foods that don’t require hot or cold holding. Baked goods, jams and bread are fine, but pizza doesn’t pass. Cut tomatoes aren’t allowed, so a home-based salsa business is a no-go.

Massachusetts tends to be a bit draconian in its laws; had I started my home-based cooking business in New York, where I live now, I wouldn’t have had to get my kitchen certified or inspected. (New York only inspects if complaints are made.)

New York offers an expansive list of approved and banned foods that’s worth examining closely for its inconsistencies. While you can repackage dried pasta, you can’t make or dry your own pasta. While cakes and cookies are…

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