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University of Illinois Extension

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Product

What products 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: "Cottage food operation" means an operation conducted by a person who produces or packages food or drink, other than foods and drinks listed as prohibited in paragraph (1.5) of subsection (b) of this Section, in a kitchen located in that person's primary domestic residence or another appropriately designed and equipped residential or commercial-style kitchen on that property for direct sale by the owner, a family member, or employee.

As of January 1, 2018, HB 3063, all food and drink are permitted, except for what is listed in the law (see the next section).

What foods are prohibited?

Prohibited Items: HB 3063

(A) meat, poultry, fish, seafood, or shellfish
(B) dairy, except as an ingredient in a non-potentially hazardous baked good or candy, such as caramel
(C) eggs, except as an ingredient in a non-potentially hazardous baked good or in dry noodles
(D) pumpkin pies, sweet potato pies, cheesecakes, custard pies, creme pies, and pastries with potentially hazardous fillings or toppings
(E) garlic in oil
(F) canned foods, except for fruit jams, fruit jellies, fruit preserves, fruit butters, and acidified vegetables;*
(G) sprouts
(H) cut leafy greens, except for leafy greens that are dehydrated or blanched and frozen;**
(I) cut fresh tomato or melon
(J) dehydrated tomato or melon
(K) frozen cut melon
(L) wild-harvested, non-cultivated mushrooms
(M) alcoholic beverages.
(N) Kombucha

Any food or drink listed in this section may still be sold if it is produced in compliance with regular agricultural or commercial food preparation laws and rules. The cottage food law, which allows for food preparation in a home kitchen, is just an exception to regular commercial food laws and rules. If you wish to make a food listed in this section, please contact your local public health department to learn more about the commercial food preparation rules in your county.

*Any vegetables that are canned must include a step that raises the acidity, by pickling, fermenting, or other means of adding acid. Cottage food producers are strongly encouraged to test the acid level of any allowed canned product by sending a sample jar to a commercial food lab.

**“Cut leafy greens” means larger leaves that are torn, cut, shredded, or otherwise made into smaller pieces; it does not mean the harvest cut. If you are unsure whether a food or drink you want to make would be allowed after reading this list, you should speak with your local public health department.

Are tomato products allowed?

Yes: Home-Canned Tomato Bill (SB0457), Tomato products must be processed in a boiling water bath canner or pressure canner and must have acid added, even when processed in a pressure canner. You must use a USDA or Cooperative Extension recipe or have your recipe tested by a food laboratory

See: tomato canning

What is meant by canned food?

"Canned food" means food preserved in air-tight, vacuum-sealed containers that are heat processed sufficiently to enable storing the food at normal home temperatures.

For information on home canning, see home food preservation

Which jams, butters, preserves, and jellies are prohibited

All jams and jellies are allowed. Fruit butters are allowed with the exception of pumpkin butter:

Canning pumpkin butter or mashed or pureed pumpkin is NOT recommended.

According to USDA home canning is not recommended for pumpkin butter or any mashed or pureed pumpkin or winter squash.

For more info go to University of Georgia Home Food Preservation

Can I make pickles and salsa for sale at the farmers market?

Yes, any vegetables that are canned must include a step that raises the acidity, by pickling, fermenting, or other means of adding acid. Cottage food producers are strongly encouraged to test the acid level of any allowed canned product by sending a sample jar to a commercial food lab. Remember, the cottage food producer is responsible for safely producing and storing foods and should take every reasonable step to ensure food safety. Canned mustards, acidified with vinegar, should fit under this category, as the seed is part of the vegetable plant mustard.

See list of approved laboratories for pH testing.

What does "cut leafy greens" in the prohibited foods list refer to?

Cut leafy greens are in reference to torn or cut green leaves such as those prepared to be used in salads, not the cut from the base of the plant that is performed during harvest.

Process

Do jams and jellies need to be processed in a boiling water bath canner?

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.

Can a Cottage Food Operator serve samples?

Yes. A cottage food operation may offer samples at a farmers market either by preparing prepackaged samples in the kitchen of the cottage food operation, or by obtaining a sampling certificate from the Local Health Department and preparing samples on the spot at the farmers market. Certificates are valid for 3 years and cover farmers markets statewide.

For more info go to Illinois Department of Public Health

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

"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.

Labeling

What information must be included on the label of a cottage food product?

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

a. Name and address of the cottage food operation.
b. The common or usual name of the food product (All capital letters or upper/lower case are both acceptable).
c. 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.
d. The following statement: "This product was produced in a home kitchen not subject to public health inspection that may also process common food allergens."
e. The date the product was processed.
f. Allergen labeling as specified in federal labeling requirement.

What does allergen labeling, as specified in federal labeling requirements, mean?

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.

Are there any special requirements for tree nuts labeling for allergens?

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.

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

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.

Recipe Testing

What is a commercial laboratory?

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 or the University of Illinois laboratories will not perform these services. See menu for an incomplete list of accredited labs. The University of Illinois does not endorse any of the listed labs.

What food testing is involved with the testing and documenting of a recipe?

pH testing (acidity)

A food is "acidified" if: (i) acid or acid ingredients are added to it to produce a final equilibrium pH of 4.6 or below; or (ii) it is fermented to produce a final equilibrium pH of 4.6 or below.

Does each product need to be tested and documented?

Cottage food producers are encouraged to have acidified fruits and vegetables tested in an accredited lab.

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?

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.

Regulations

Can cottage food operators sell a "take-n-bake" product?

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

In the sale of Cottage Foods limited to Illinois farmers and farm families?

No, residents of Illinois who hold a current Food Protection Manager Certification 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.

Does the cottage food operation have to be registered with the local health authority?

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

Does the cottage food operator need to be certified as a Certified Food Protection Manager?

Yes, The person preparing or packaging products as a cottage food operation must have an ANSI accredited Certified Food Protection Manager (CFPM) certificate. An Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) approved Food Service Sanitation Manager Certificate (FSSMC) is no longer required as of 2018, but the City of Chicago has an additional certification for cottage food operations registered in Chicago.

Can a cottage food operation be required to pay a registration fee?

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.

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?

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.

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

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 it may invoke cessation of sales until it deems that the situation has been addressed to the satisfaction of the Department.

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?

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.

Point of Sale

Where can "cottage foods" be sold?

Products can only be sold at farmers markets, 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 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.

Can products be sold at year-round or indoor farmers markets?

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

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

No, the Food Handling Regulation Enforcement Act "cottage food operations" provisions clearly identifies 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.

Can products be sold through a brokering arrangement?

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.

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

Yes

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