[Skip to Content]
University of Illinois Extension

What Is a Cottage Food Operation?

According to the 2018 Illinois amended definition: A “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), (see list below) in a kitchen located in that person’s 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. There is one exception to the law. Read below.

(1.5) A cottage food operation may produce homemade food and drink. However, a cottage food operation, unless properly licensed, certified, and compliant with all requirements to sell a listed food item under the laws and regulations pertinent to that food item, shall not sell or offer to sell the following items or processed foods containing the following food items; except as indicated:

What Foods Are Not Permitted?

Prohibited Foods Include (1.6):

(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, subject to paragraph (1.8) (see below);

(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, crème pies, and pastries with potentially hazardous fillings or toppings;

(E) garlic in oil or oil infused with garlic, except if the garlic oil is acidified; (1.6) A food is "acidified" if: acid or acid ingredients are added to it to produce a final equilibrium pH of 4.6 or below; or it is fermented to produce a final equilibrium pH of 4.6 or below. "Equilibrium pH" means the final potential of hydrogen measured in an acidified food after all the components of the food have achieved the same acidity.

(F) canned foods, except for the following, which are allowed if they are acid/acidified and canned only in Mason-style jars with new lids. "Canned food" means food preserved in airtight, vacuum-sealed containers that are heat processed (Boiling Water Bath Canner) sufficiently to enable storing the food at normal home temperatures. Low acid canned foods are prohibited: canned vegetables (such as green beans, corn, etc.)

(i) fruit jams, fruit jellies, fruit preserves, or fruit butters;

(ii) syrups;

(iii) whole or cut fruit canned in syrup; and

(iv) acidified fruit or vegetables prepared and offered for sale in compliance with paragraph (1.6) and

(v) condiments such as prepared mustard, horseradish, or ketchup that do not contain ingredients prohibited under this Section and that are prepared and offered for sale in compliance with paragraph (1.6);

(G) sprouts; "Sprout" means any seedling intended for human consumption that was produced in a manner that does not meet the definition of microgreen.

(H) cut leafy green, except for cut leafy greens that are dehydrated, acidified, or blanched and frozen; "Leafy greens" includes iceberg lettuce; romaine lettuce; leaf lettuce; butter lettuce; baby leaf lettuce, such as immature lettuce or leafy green; escarole; endive; spring mix; spinach; cabbage; kale; arugula; and chard. "Leafy greens" does not include microgreens or herbs such as cilantro or parsley. "Microgreen" means an edible plant seedling grown in soil or substrate and harvested above the soil or substrate line.

(I) cut or pureed fresh tomato or melon;

(J) dehydrated tomato or melon;

(K) frozen cut melon;

(L) wild-harvested, non-cultivated mushrooms; or

(M) alcoholic beverages; or

(N) kombucha (fermented tea).

The Exception to the Illinois Cottage Food 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.

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 2018 amendment to the law caps that fee at $25.
  • The person preparing and selling products as a cottage food operation has a current Certified Food Protection Managers Certificate.

Farmers Market

In Illinois, a Cottage Food Operation may sell products at a farmers market or with the exception of cottage foods that have a locally grown agricultural product as the main ingredient, which may be sold on the farm where the agricultural product is grown or delivered directly to the customer.

"Main ingredient" means an agricultural product that is the defining or distinctive ingredient in a cottage food product, though not necessarily by predominance of weight.

"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

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), 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 an Illinois Sampling Certificate and preparing samples on the spot at the farmers market. Certificates are valid for 3 years and cover all farmers markets statewide.

More Information on the Sampling Certificate

If you already have a current Certified Food Protection Managers certificate (formally known as the Food Service Sanitation Manager's Certificate), you will not need to take the training. Simply complete the Certificate Fillable Application below and mail a $10 fee to Illinois Department of Public Health.

Food Product Sampling Hander Training
Course intended for: Food product samples
Course Duration Approximately 45 minutes

This training is to prepare an individual who wants to engage in performing tasks such as unpackaging, cutting, slicing, preparing or distributing food product samples to consumers at a farmers market in Illinois. The training will cover the steps needed to provide safe food product samples to consumers.

The application for your Farmers Market Food Sampling Certificate can be downloaded here. You will need to submit payment after completion of this training.

You may want to download these forms before continuing.

Farmers Market Food Product Sampling Handout
Farmers Market Food Sampling Certificate Fillable Application
Farmers Market Pre Inspection Checklist

If You Do Not Have a Sampling Certificate, Follow This Procedure

All samples to be served for tasting must be prepared at home by the cottage food operation. 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.

Serving Samples at the Farmers Market
Photo courtesy of the Illinois Department of Public Health: Food, Drugs, and Dairies.

Items sold by a cottage food operation are intended for end-use only. As of January 2018, there is no gross limit for receipts from the sale of foods under the Cottage Food law. Products cannot 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 2018.
  • 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

According to the Institute of Justice, as of 2018 all 50 states have some type of cottage food law in place. Currently New Jersey allows sale for charity but not for profit.

What did you think of this site? Give us your feedback!