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University of Illinois Extension

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. Question: What products that are made in a home kitchen (or another appropriately designed and equipped residential or commercial-style kitchen on that property) can be sold under the "cottage food operation" provisions?

    Answer: Food that is not potentially hazardous such as baked goods, jam, jelly, preserves, fruit butter, dry herbs, dry herb blends or dry tea blends and that is intended for end-use only, shall be sold by the owner or a family member using safe food handling practices that reduce the risk of contamination.

    Jams, Jellies and Preserves: The following jams, jellies and preserves are allowed: apple, apricot, grape, peach, plum, quince, orange, nectarine, tangerine, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, boysenberry, cherry, cranberry, strawberry, red currant or a combination of these fruits.

    The presence of low sugar or sugar substitute in jams, jellies and preserves, can make a difference in the shelf stability of the product. With lower sugar and pectin levels, spoilage organisms are more likely to survive the cooking process. The best practice for low sugar jams and jellies is that they be processed only in a boiling water canner for a minimum of ten minutes and not by any other methods unless water activity is determined by a commercial lab to be less than 0.85.

    Other jams, jellies, or preserves not listed may be produced if the cottage food operator's recipe has been tested and documented by a commercial laboratory (at the expense of the cottage food operation) as being not potentially hazardous, containing a pH equilibrium of less than 4.6. (See prohibited items below).

    Fruit Butters: The following fruit butters are allowed: apple, apricot, grape, peach, plum, quince, and prune. Fruit butters not listed may be produced if the cottage food operator's recipe has been tested and documented by a commercial laboratory (at the expense of the cottage food operation) as being not potentially hazardous, containing a pH equilibrium of less than 4.6. (See prohibited items).

    Baked Goods: The following baked goods, including, but not limited to the following, are allowed: breads, cookies, cakes, pies and pastries. Only high-acid fruit pies that use the following fruits are allowed: apple, apricot, grape, peach, plum, quince, orange, nectarine, tangerine, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, boysenberry, cherry, cranberry, strawberry, red currants or a combination of these fruits. Fruit pies not listed may be produced if the cottage food operator's recipe has been tested and documented by a commercial laboratory (at the expense of the cottage food operation) as being not potentially hazardous, containing a pH equilibrium of less than 4.6. (See prohibited items).

    Dried Foods: The following dried foods are allowed: dried herbs, dried herb blends, or dried tea blends.

  2. Question: What foods in baked goods are prohibited?

    Answer: Prohibited Items: The following items are prohibited from production and sale by a cottage food operation: pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, cheesecake, custard pies, and cream pies, as well as pastries with potentially hazardous fillings or toppings.

  3. Question: Which jam, butters, preserves, and jellies are prohibited?

    Answer: Prohibited items: HB2486 - Public Act 099-0191 of 2015 changed the original ruling. Currently, any jam, preserves, fruit butter, or jelly product from the previously prohibited list can be sold under the Cottage Food Operation Law, if the product has been tested by a commercial laboratory and deemed non-potentially hazardous. Previously prohibited items included pumpkin, banana, pear butters, rhubarb, tomato pepper and watermelon jellies or jams. The lab expense for testing is the responsibility of cottage food operation. The lab report must document that the product is not potentially hazardous, containing a pH equilibrium of less than 4.6 or has been specified and adopted as allowed in administrative rules by the Department of public. Products that do not require laboratory documentation of pH equilibrium of less the 4.6 are apple, apricot, grape, peach, plum, quince, orange, nectarine, tangerine, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, boysenberry, cherry, cranberry, strawberry, red currants, or a combination of those fruits.

  4. Question: Do jams and jellies need to be processed in a boiling water bath canner?

    Answer: Yes, because of possible mold contamination, paraffin or wax seals are no longer recommended for any sweet spread, including jellies. Even though sugar helps preserve jellies and jams, molds can grow on the surface of these products. Research now indicates that the mold which people usually scrape off the surface of jellies may not be as harmless as it seems. Mycotoxins have been found in some jars of jelly having surface mold growth. Mycotoxins are known to cause cancer in animals; their effects on humans are still being researched. For more information, tested recipes and step-by-step processing information visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

  5. Question: Can I make and sell spiced tomato jam, pear jam, or strawberry/rhubarb jam or use other prohibited foods to make jams, jellies and butters, if I have laboratory documentation that the pH is 4.6 or less?

    Answer: Yes, HB2486 - Public Act 099-0191 changed the original ruling. Currently, any jam or jelly product made from the preciously prohibited items can be sold under the Cottage Food Operation Law, if the product has been tested by a commercial laboratory and deemed non-potentially hazardous. The lab expense for testing is the responsibility of cottage food operation. The lab report must document that the product is not potentially hazardous, containing a pH equilibrium of less than 4.6 or has been specified and adopted as allowed in administrative rules by the Department of Public Health (also see FAQ #3).

  6. Question: Can I make pickles and salsa for sale at the farmers market?

    Answer: No. Pickles, relish, and salsa are not allowed. As the Act specifically lists the food items that can be sold under the "cottage food operation" provisions, food items that are not listed would not fall under this exemption. In order to sell these items you will need to prepare them in a certified kitchen and follow your Local Health Department procedures.

  7. Question: Can cottage food operators sell a "take-n-bake" product?

    Answer: No. These products would require temperature control to prevent bacterial growth and are not allowed for sale by a cottage food operation.

  8. Question: Where can "cottage foods" be sold?

    Answer: Products can only be sold at the farmers’ market, unless you meet the exception rule. The exception is for cottage food operations that have a locally grown agriculture product from their farm as the main ingredient the product. The law describes the main ingredient as an agricultural product (food) that is the defining or distinctive ingredient in a cottage food product. The main ingredient does not need to be most by weight in the recipe. These products may be sold on the farm where the agriculture product is grown or it may be delivered directly to customers. Gross receipts from the sale of food exempted under this section long with the farmers’ market sales may not exceed $36,000 in a calendar year.

  9. Question: Can products be sold at a year-round or indoor farmers' market?

    Answer: Yes, as long as the products meet the "cottage food" requirements of the Public Act.

  10. Question: Can products be sold at retail outlets (i.e., local grocery stores or retail markets)?

    Answer: No, the Food Handling Regulation Enforcement Act "cottage food operations" provisions clearly identify farmers' markets as the only venue where "cottage food" products may be sold. Cottage foods cannot be sold to a retailer for resale or to a restaurant for use or sale in the restaurant. Cottage foods cannot be sold over the Internet, by mail order, or to wholesalers, brokers or other food distributors who will resell the cottage foods.

  11. Question: What is a commercial laboratory?

    Answer: A commercial laboratory is a laboratory which performs fee for service analysis. It accepts samples from the public. Such a laboratory may be certified in one or more categories of accreditation. The Illinois Department of Public Health laboratories will not perform these services.

  12. Question: Which commercial laboratories do food testing?

    Answer: This list is not all inclusive and the Cottage Food operator may do an Internet search for commercial labs that perform food testing. The list below was provided by the Illinois Department of Public Health Division of Food, Drugs and Dairies and released in TIB #44 January 1, 2012.

    IDPH 2011 Food Testing Laboratories
    Covance Laboratories
    3301 Kinsman Boulevard
    Madison, WI 53704
    Phone: (608) 241-4471

    Food Safety Net Services, LTD
    199 W. Rhapsody
    San Antonio, TX 78216
    Phone: (210) 308-0675

    Grand Prairie Lab
    Phone: (972) 602-2078

    Phoenix Lab
    Phone: (602) 385-4030

    Green Bay Lab
    Phone: (920) 465-4165

    ABC Research Corp
    3437 SW 24th Ave.
    Gainesville, FL 32607-4502
    Phone: (352) 372-0436

    Toxin Technology
    7165 Curtiss Ave.
    Sarasota, FL 34231-8012
    Phone: (941) 925-2032

    Deibel Labs
    103 S. 2nd St.
    Madison, WI 53704
    Phone: (608) 241-1177

    (Main Lab)
    7120 N. Ridgeway Ave.
    Lincolnwood, IL 60712
    Phone: (847) 329-9900

    Q Laboratories Inc.
    1400 Harrison Ave.
    Cincinnati, OH 45214
    Phone: (513) 471-1300

    Exova (FPL)
    1200 N.E. Ainsworth Circle, Suite 105
    Portland, OR 97220
    Phone: (800) 375-9555

    Key Laboratory Services
    2363 E. Federal Dr.
    Decatur, IL 62526-2158
    Phone: (217) 875-2691

    Metro Diversified Labs
    10024 W. Roosevelt Rd
    Westchester, IL 60154-2642
    Phone: (708) 865-1400

    Accugen Labs
    50 W. 75th St.
    Willowbrook, IL 60527
    Phone: (630) 789-8105

    Silliker Labs
    Chicago, IL
    Phone: (312) 938-5151

    111 E Upper Wacker Dr.
    Chicago, IL
    Phone: (312) 938-5151

    1304 S Halsted St
    Chicago, IL
    Phone: (312) 243-8327

  13. Question: What food testing is involved with the testing and documenting of a recipe?

    Answer: Any product that is not listed as allowed in the jam, preserve, fruit butter or baked goods shall be tested and documented by a commercial laboratory, at the expense of the cottage food operation as being not potentially hazardous, containing a pH equilibrium of less than 4.6.

  14. Question: Does each product need to be tested and documented?

    Answer: Yes, each product that is not listed as allowed shall be tested and documented.

  15. Question: If a cottage food operation has already had their product tested and documented as being not potentially hazardous, and they want to give their recipe to another cottage food operation, does the recipe have to be approved again?

    Answer: No if documentation is available and no change to the recipe has been made. However, if no documentation is available or changes to the recipe have been made, testing would be required.

  16. Question: What information must be included on the label of a cottage food product?

    Answer: The basic information that must be on a label is as follows (see Sample Label):

    • Name and address of the cottage food operation.
    • The common or usual name of the food product (All capital letters or upper/lower case are both acceptable).
    • The ingredients of the cottage food product, including any colors, artificial flavors, and preservatives, listed in descending order of predominance by weight. If you use a prepared item in your recipe, you must list the sub ingredients as well. For example: soy sauce is not acceptable, soy sauce (wheat, soybeans, salt) would be acceptable, please see the label below for further examples.
    • The following statement: "This product was produced in a home kitchen not subject to public health inspection that may also process common food allergens."
    • The date the product was processed.
    • Allergen labeling as specified in federal labeling requirement .
  17. Question: What does allergen labeling, as specified in federal labeling requirements, mean?

    Answer: It means the operator must identify if any of the ingredients are made from one of the following food groups: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts (such as almonds, pecans or walnuts), wheat, peanuts, and soybeans. So, if there is an ingredient made with a wheat based product, the operator has the following two options:

    1. Include the allergen in the ingredient list. For example, a white bread with the following ingredient listing: whole wheat flour, enriched wheat flour, water, salt and yeast. In this example, the statement 'whole wheat flour and enriched wheat flour', meets the requirements of the federal law as food allergens.
    2. Include an allergen statement ("Contains") after the ingredient list. For example, a white bread, with the following ingredients: enriched wheat flour, whole wheat flour, water, sodium caseinate, salt and yeast. Contains wheat and milk.

    The "Contains": statement must reflect all the allergens found in the product. In this example, the sodium caseinate comes from milk and the enriched wheat flour and whole wheat flour are from wheat.

  18. Question: Are there any special requirements for tree nuts labeling for allergens?

    Answer: Yes if the cottage food product has tree nuts as an ingredient you must identify which tree nut you are using.

    For example, if you made Nut Bread, an acceptable ingredient list would be: Ingredients: wheat flour, water, almonds, salt, yeast.

    The following would not be acceptable. Ingredients: flour, water, nuts, salt, yeast.

  19. Question: Does the cottage food operator have to include home address on product labeling or is a post office box sufficient?

    Answer: The physical address of the home kitchen must be on the product label, not a post office box. The purpose of including an address on product labels is to be able to locate the business in case of a recall or traceback associated with a foodborne illness complaint or outbreak. The Public Act specifies that the name and address of the business of the cottage food operation shall be included on the label.

  20. Question: Is the sale of Cottage Foods limited to Illinois farmers and farm families?

    Answer: No, residents of Illinois who holds a current Food Service Sanitation Manager's Certificate can complete an application in the county where they live at the Local Health Department to participate in the sale of specific home prepared foods at the farmers market.

  21. Question: Does the cottage food operation have to be registered with the local health authority?

    Answer: Yes, the cottage food operation shall register with the Local Health Department (LHD) where the cottage food operation resides. Failure to register with the LHD will subject the cottage food operation to regulation by IDPH and/or IDOA.

    Out of state cottage food operations are not allowed as the Public Act only applies to businesses where the home kitchen (primary domestic residence) is physically located in Illinois.

    If a cottage food operation cannot meet the requirements of the Public Act, they would fall under current regulation by IDPH, IDOA or LHD as a retail food operation.

    Other references: Guide to Illinois Laws Governing Direct Farm Marketing, Illinois Stewardship Alliance.

  22. Question: Does the cottage food operator need to be certified as a Food Service Sanitation Manager?

    Answer: Yes, the person preparing and selling products as a cottage food operation must have an Illinois Food Service Sanitation Manager Certification, 410 ILCS 4(b)(6). Courses can be found on the IDPH website.

  23. Question: Can a cottage food operation be required to pay a registration fee?

    Answer: Yes. The Public Acts permits the LHD to charge a registration fee, not to exceed $25, provided the cottage food operation can meet all the conditions for exemption. However, neither Illinois Department of Public Health nor Illinois Department of Agriculture may charge a fee.

  24. Question: What information does a Local Health Departments (LHD) need to provide to IDPH?

    Answer: Annually, LHD's that have decided to regulate cottage food operations in their jurisdiction shall provide a written statement to IDPH, Division of Food, Drugs and Dairies stating that the LHD is regulating the cottage food operations within their jurisdiction. The Department will accept the statements via email.

    It is recommended that a Local Health Department issue a certificate of registration to cottage food operations that have properly register in their jurisdictions.

  25. Question: What products that are made in a home kitchen can be sold under the "cottage food operation" provisions?

    Answer: Answer: Food that is not potentially hazardous such as baked goods, jam, jelly, preserves, fruit butter, dry herbs, dry herb blends or dry tea blends and that is intended for end-use only; shall be sold by the owner or a family member using safe food handling practices that reduce the risk of contamination and prepared in a home kitchen (or another appropriately designed kitchen on that property).

  26. Question: What if a potential cottage food vendor proposes to make non-potentially hazardous candy under the law. Since candy is not listed as one of the allowed foods, should a commercial lab test be done to verify it is a non-potentially hazardous food?

    Answer: As the Act specifically lists the food items that can be sold under the "cottage food operation" provisions, food items that are not listed would not fall under this exemption. Candy is not a category that is allowed, so it cannot be sold. If a cottage food operation cannot meet the requirements of the Public Act, they would fall under current regulation by IDPH, IDOA or LHD as a retail food operation.

  27. Question: Can products be sold through a brokering arrangement?

    Answer: No. "Cottage food operation" means a person who produces or packages non-potentially hazardous food in a home kitchen or another appropriately designed kitchen on that property of the person's primary domestic residence for direct sale by the owner or a family member. Products must be stored in the residence or appropriately designed and equipped residential or commercial-style kitchen on that property where the food is made.

  28. Question: Can CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) produce be sold at the Farmer's Market under the Cottage Food Law?

    Answer: As the Act specifically lists the food items that can be sold under the "cottage food operation" provisions, food items that are not listed would not fall under this exemption.

    Other references: Guide to Illinois Laws Governing Direct Farm Marketing, Illinois Stewardship Alliance.

  29. Question: Is it the intent of the law that each vendor register only once for a registration fee or can the Local Health Department (LHD) charge annually like a food permit? If the vendor changes information such as address or phone #, do they need to re-register with the health department?

    Answer: A LHD may require that each vendor register annually. It is up to the discretion of each Local Health Department what the requirements are when the vendor changes information during the year. As an address change would be a new location for the cottage food operation, the Local Health Department may want to require notification/registration of any address changes.

  30. Question: What if significant food safety violations are found during a complaint investigation?

    Answer: If the Department of Public Health or the health department of a unit of local government has received a consumer complaint or has reason to believe that an imminent health hazard exists or that a cottage food operation's product has been found to be misbranded, adulterated, or not in compliance with the exception for cottage food operations pursuant to this Section, then I may invoke cessation of sales until it deems that the situation has been addressed to the satisfaction of the Department.

  31. Question: What would the state recommend if a complaint is received and significant food safety violations are found at the cottage food operation?

    Answer: The Local Health Department would invoke the cessation of sale until it deems that the situation has been addressed.

  32. Question: When the Local Health Department (LHD) is inspecting at farmers' markets and they see a cottage food operator, can they verify the basics without doing a routine inspection. Who enforces this law?

    Answer: The LHD has the right to verify if the Cottage Food Operator is in compliance with the Act. Any local health department that finds a Cottage Food Operator in non-compliance with P.A. 097-0393 would invoke the cessation of sales until it deems that the situation has been addressed as they would not be in compliance with the exception for cottage food operations.

  33. Question: What if a cottage food operation would like to offer samples that are not pre-packaged and properly labeled? Could you please clarify whether a cottage food operation that offers samples that are not pre-packaged and labeled would fall under the Temporary Food Permit requirements?

    Answer: Yes. As long as your product meets the requirements of the Cottage Food guidance document and is a non-potentially hazardous food, sampling is allowed. Samples must be pre-packaged in your home kitchen (or another appropriately designed and equipped residential or commercial-style kitchen on that property) e.g., if you sample bread, you can't cut it at the market, but can cut it in your home kitchen and individually wrap or package the bread samples into sample cups with lids). Although you do not need an individual label for each sample, you must have properly labeled packages of your product on display with the samples so your customer can review the ingredient list. Your product cannot be cooked or prepared in a way that makes it potentially hazardous food/temperature control for safety food (e.g., you can't add a dried dip mix to sour cream or serve anything that can't be kept safely at room temperature – these examples would require a food license.

  34. Question: Can a Cottage Food operator serve samples?

    Answer: Yes, but all samples must be prepared at home, not at the Farmers Market. Operator must prepare samples in individual containers with a lid or individually wrapped in the home kitchen. Labels are not required on samples, but it is recommended.

  35. Question: What does pH mean, and why is it important in non-potentially hazardous foods?

    Answer: "pH" is a symbol, which is a measure of the degree of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution or food. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14. The value for pure distilled water is 7, which is considered neutral. The lower the number the higher the acid content of the food, which starts at less than 4.6 for acid foods. The Illinois Cottage Food Law makes clear divisions of some foods based on the pH value. Acidic foods naturally prevent the growth of many foodborne microbes. All jams, jellies, butters, and preserves and all other home canned foods sold under the Cottage Food Law must have pH equilibrium of less than 4.6.

  36. Question: Is a Nutrition Facts label required on Cottage Food products?

    Answer: No, unless the product makes a specific claim or profits exceed $36,000 annually.

References

Illinois Department of Public Health, Office of Health Protection, Division of Food, Drugs, and Dairies: Technical Information Bulletin Food #44 January 1, 2012

Illinois Department of Public Health, Office of Health Protection, Division of Food, Drugs, and Dairies: Technical Information Bulletin Food #44a April 1. 2012

National Center for Home Food Preservation, Elizabeth L. Andress, Ph.D. Extension Food Safety Specialist and Project Director, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension