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Tips for entering the cottage food business

cup cakes

URBANA, Ill. — Last year, the Home-to-Market Act, a set of legislative updates to the Cottage Food Law, came into effect in Illinois. Before this legislation passed, food operators could only sell homemade foods through farmers markets with few exceptions. Now, this amendment allows owners to grow their businesses by expanding direct-to-consumer sales, opening the door for small farms, home bakers, and other food entrepreneurs to sell their products directly to customers through fairs and festivals, home sales, pickup, delivery, and shipping.

Illinois Extension educators Mary Liz Wright and Jenna Smith, have been instrumental in helping to refine these changes that promote innovation while retaining safe food preservation practices that minimize the risk of exposing the public to foodborne illnesses.

“In the cottage food community, the artisan spirit is truly impressive,” says Smith. “The laws are there to protect those food innovators, as well as the public.”

To take advantage of these expanded opportunities, anyone preparing or packaging food for a home-based food operation must complete an American National Standards Institute accredited Certified Food Protection Managers course and exam. Once certified, the operator must register with their local health department, fill out an application, list the foods intended for sale, and pay any applicable fees.


Learn more about getting started

Illinois Extension offers a self-paced online course to help those interested in becoming cottage food operators.

“It's an exciting time to be in the cottage food industry. Our role is to protect people's health by providing research-based information about food preservation," says Mary Liz Wright. "The course we offer helps producers or entrepreneurs learn more about the laws, certifications, processes, and best practices needed to safely and legally run a cottage food business in Illinois.” Participants will also learn how the changes to the laws allow businesses to grow and thrive.

For additional course information and to register, visit the Cottage Food Training site. Extension also provides a Cottage Food Operator Checklist to help potential operators navigate the key topics.

Recapping the Home-to-Market Act Changes

Some of the key changes of the act include:

  • Expanded sales channels for producers of handicraft products enabling entrepreneurs to reach new customers and grow their businesses.
  • Buttercream icing is no longer prohibited, expanding sales for home-based bakers. A list of prohibited cottage foods can be found on the Extension website.
  • It adds new food safety provisions to ensure public safety while allowing food entrepreneurs and farmers to operate from home kitchens.
  • Clarification for acidified and fermented foods.
  • Regulations and certification processes have become more standardized and consistent.

Food operators are encouraged to contact their local health department for additional guidance and clarification.

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.

SOURCEMary Liz Wright, Food and Nutrition Educator, Illinois Extension
SOURCEJenna Smith, Food and Nutrition Educator, Illinois Extension