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University of Illinois Extension

What Is a Cottage Food Operation?

According to the 2015 Illinois amended definition: A “Cottage Food Operation” is a business operated by a person who produces or packages non-potentially hazardous food in a kitchen located in the person’s primary domestic residence or another appropriately equipped residential or commercial-style kitchen on that property. The non-potentially hazardous food must be for direct sale by the owner, a family member, or an employee. The food must be stored in the residence or in an appropriately designed and equipped residential or commercial-style kitchen on that property where the food is made. There is one exception to the law. Read below.

The Exception to The Law

Approved Cottage Food is to be sold at a farmers market with one exception. The exception is for cottage food operations that have a locally grown agriculture product from their farm as the main ingredient. The main ingredient is described 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 predominate by weight. 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 along with the farmers’ market sales may not exceed $36,000 in a calendar year.

An Example of The Exception

A Cottage Food Operation farmer decides to make Apple Butter made from apples grown on the farm. The farmer must follow the Cottage Food Law requirements. Because of the exception, the farmer may sell the Apple Butter directly to customers who come to the farm to buy it or at the Farmers Market. In addition, the farmer, a family member, or employee can deliver the Apple Butter directly to the customer.

What foods can and cannot be sold by a Cottage Food Operation?

Cottage Food Operator Requirements

  • The name and residence of the person preparing and selling products as a cottage food operation is registered with the county health department of a unit of local government where the cottage food operation resides. A fee may be charged for registration. The 2015 amendment to the law caps that fee at $25.
  • The person preparing and selling products as a cottage food operation has a current Department of Public Health approved Food Service Sanitation Management Certificate.

Farmers Market

In Illinois, a Cottage Food Operation may only sell products at a farmers market. “Farmers’ Market” means a common facility or area where farmers gather to sell a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and other locally produced farm and food products directly to consumers.

Serving Samples at the Farmers Market

All samples to be served for tasting must be prepared at home by the CFO. All samples must be in individual container with lids (see photo) or individually wrapped. Labeling is not required. This picture represents the approved method of serving samples at the farmers market. Individual servings, in sealed containers, prepared at home and brought to the Farmers Market. Photo courtesy of the Illinois Department of Public Health: Food, Drugs, and Dairies

Serving Samples at the Farmers Market

Items sold by a cottage food operation are intended for end-use only. Gross receipts from the sale of food exempted under the cottage food law may not exceed $25,000 in a calendar year. Products can’t be resold to retail stores, restaurants, on the Internet, by mail order, to wholesalers, brokers, or other food distributors who resell food.

Additional Cottage Food Safety Information

If the Illinois Department of Public Health or 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 cottage food law then it may invoke cessation of sales until it deems that the situation has been addressed.

A state-certified local public health department may, upon providing a written statement to the Illinois Department of Public Health take the additional regulatory measures:

  • A reasonable fee for registration set by the local public health department, not to exceed $25, as amended in 2015.
  • Require that as part of the registration a cottage food operation must agree to grant access to the local public health department to conduct an inspection of the cottage food operation in the event of a consumer complaint or foodborne illness outbreak.
  • In the event of a consumer complaint or foodborne illness, a local health department is allowed to inspect the premises of the cottage food operation in question and set a reasonable fee for that inspection.

Other States with Cottage Food Laws

Since 2011, 22 more states have adopted Cottage Food Laws. As of March 2016, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have some type of cottage food law in place or pending (New Jersey and Hawaii have legislation that is pending).