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Virginia Cottage Food Laws and Regulations: How to sell your homemade foods in Virginia

Virginia Cottage Food Laws, Regulations and Facts

Date of the enactment of the Virginia cottage food law: 1999
 Click here for more information about this state's cottage food requirements. On July 1, 2013 an amendment to § 3.2-5130 of the Code of Virginia went into effect that expanded the types of prepared foods individuals can make and sell from their homes or at farmers markets without VDACS inspection including certain low risk foods and acidified vegetables.  The original exemption included candies, jams and jellies not considered to be low-acid or acidified lowacid products and baked goods that do not require time or temperature control for safety and are produced in a private home. The home food processor must complete the application process which includes a home inspection.

If your food product does not meet the definition of a Cottage Food, you may still be able to make and sell it commercially, through a startup approach.  See this page for detailed information about selling foods that do not meet the Cottage Food definition. Catering is not permitted from a home-based kitchen. If you are interested in starting a catering company, please contact the Virginia Department of Health. Products containing meat are regulated by the Office of Meat and Poultry Services.

Which foods are subject to the Virginia Home Food Processors Cottage Food law?

These are the only allowed foods:Low risk foods and pickles:

  •  dried fruits,
  • dry herbs,
  • dry seasonings,
  • dry mixtures,
  • coated and uncoated nuts,
  • vinegars and flavored vinegars,
  • popcorn, popcorn balls,
  • cotton candy,
  • dried pasta,
  • dry baking mixes,
  • roasted coffee,
  • dried tea,
  • cereals, trail mixes and granola.
  • Pickles and other acidified vegetables processed in a private home so that an equilibrium pH of 4.6 or lower is achieved.
  • Acidified vegetable products include pickled products, salsa, chow-chow, relishes and similar vegetables that are processed in a private home to achieve an equilibrium pH of 4.6 or lower.

Prohibited foods

What types of home-canned products are not allowed under this exemption?

  • Canned fermented foods
  • Canned foods that require refrigeration for safety
  • Canned Acid foods
  • Canned fruits
  • Low-acid canned vegetables that are processed with an equilibrium pH of greater than 4.6
  • Any acidified food that is not a vegetable
  • Any product not canned in a private home

Licensing

You are NOT required to pay the annual $40.00 fee to the agency.

Although you are still required to comply with all applicable laws and regulations, since you are exempt from the agency's periodic inspections, you will no longer be required to pay the annual fee. If you receive a bill from VDACS requesting that you pay the annual fee, please contact our agency at 804-786-3520 or [email protected] so that the matter can be resolved. Submit applications to the VDACS Food Safety Program. An incomplete application will cause delay in it being processed. By email (preferred): [email protected] By mail: PO Box 1163 Richmond, VA 23218 By fax: 804-371-7792 12. Once your application is submitted, it will be reviewed, and you will be contacted by the reviewer if there are any questions. When the application review is complete, a Food Safety Specialist will contact you to schedule your initial home kitchen inspection. Virginia sample product label

Labeling requirements

Cottage Food Production Operations must label all of their food products properly, which includes specified information on the label of each unit of food product offered or distributed for sale.

  • Product containers should have a a label displaying the name, physical address, and telephone number of the person preparing the food product and the date the food product was processed.
  • The statement "NOT FOR RESALE - PROCESSED AND PREPARED WITHOUT STATE INSPECTION" must be placed on the principal display panel.
  • In addition, this exemption does not preclude the need for standard labeling information on the product label (name of product, name and address of the manufacturer, distributor, or packer, net weight statement, an ingredient statement and nutritional information if applicable)

In general all processed packaged foods should also have the following on the label Virginia product label - Front

  • common name of the food,
  • name of all the ingredients in the food in descending order of predominance by weight.
  • the net weight of the food in English or metric units, and

It is recommended that honey manufacturers/processors include this additional statement to their product label: "Honey is not recommended for infants less than twelve (12) months of age"; and

Depending on the size of your business, your label must comply with Federal label regulations and with the new nutritional labeling laVirginia product label - Backw. You can download a copy of the FDA Food Labeling Guide here it s an illustrated booklet that should answer all your questions.

Where may Cottage Food Production Operations sell the food products?

Cottage Food Products may not be sold across state lines.  In other words,  only be sold within the state. They may be sold directly to the consumer from the home where the products are produced and at Farmer's Markets

  •  Farmers markets
  • FFrom the private home where the product is manufactured to an individual for his/her own consumption

You may NOT sell

  • To other businesses (including retail establishments such as grocery stores or supermarkets)
  • For resale
  • On the internet
  • Across state lines (interstate commerce)

Catering

Catering Catering operations are regulated through the local health departments. VDACS does not inspect or have jurisdiction over any businesses that cater. As a home-based kitchen business, you are considered a manufacturer. Your VDACS inspection allows you to make food products at your home kitchen and sell them either directly to the end consumer (over the internet, farmer's market, festival, etc.) or sell your products to other businesses. Catering is not allowed out of the private home kitchen.

How much home-canned pickled and acidified vegetable product can I sell?

  • Producers of acidified foods must not exceed $3,000 in total annual gross sales for all acidified products produced. Producers should carefully document the amount of product sales incurred on an ongoing basis so that the information will be available for examination by VDACS. What special precautions do I need to take in making home-canned pickles and acidified vegetables under this exemption?
  • To reduce the likelihood of foodborne illness, home-canned acidified food must have an equilibrium pH value of 4.6 or lower to inhibit the growth and formation of toxins from the bacteria that cause botulism. In order to ensure that your product achieves the proper pH, an electronic pH meter should be purchased so that you can test the product to make certain that it is at a pH of 4.6 or lower.
  • The home food processor is responsible for determining whether the product is an acidified food. We strongly advise that you have your manufacturing process reviewed and validated by a competent process authority. Home processors are strongly encouraged to complete a recognized Better Process Control School course. Information regarding times and locations for these courses can be obtained from Virginia Tech's Food Science Department(see helpful links below).

 

Applications

The application, home inspection, diagrams, etc, are all required folr a home food processor - only the $40 application fee is waived.

See this guide to successfully completing the application.

Submit applications to the VDACS Food Safety Program. An incomplete application will cause delay in it being processed.

  • By email (preferred): [email protected] 
  • By mail: PO Box 1163 Richmond, VA 23218
  • By fax: 804-371-7792 12.

Once your application is submitted, it will be reviewed, and you will be contacted by the reviewer if there are any questions. When the application review is complete, a Food Safety Specialist will contact you to schedule your initial home kitchen inspection.

Zoning

Zoning Approval may be required. Contact your county or city's zoning office and inquire about whether you can have a food business in your home. If they will allow it, ask for written documentation confirming this. It can be in the form of letter, email, license or other. You will need that for the application.

For example, see thjis page about Arlington's cottage food zoning requirements.

Other Requirements

  • The food processing area, including any areas where ingredients and finished products are stored, must be completely enclosed/separated from the rest of the home in order to be approved for home based food production.
  • Pets must be excluded from food preparation and storage areas at all times. For example, food processing and storage areas must be fitted with a solid hinged door(s) that can be latched/closed shut. Placing pets in closed rooms in other areas of the home or installing "baby gates" will NOT satisfy this requirement. The presence of caged pets (such as hamsters, guinea pigs, reptiles, fish, and birds) will not require the kitchen to be enclosed/separated from the rest of the home.
  • You may need the following:
    Business License  - typically from your local city hall
    Business Registration - from VA state corporation commission office. (registers your home bakery name)
    Food Handler's License - may require more training and inspection but may help sales. See this guide to successfully completing the application.
    Catering License - may be required by local rules and regulations
    Kitchen Inspection - depending upon your sales volume, and types of products, types of sales methods, you could fall under the Virginia Health Department or Department of Agriculture

Laws & Regulations

Recommendations:

Beyond the requirements, common sense, good practices and reducing liability suggests you should do the following.

Testing of pH

​It's best to use a pH meter, properly calibrated on the day used. I use this one, which is reliable and inexpensive. And this pH meter is really good, but isn't always available.
Short-range paper pH test strips, commonly known as litmus paper, may be used instead, if the product normally has a pH of 4.0 or lower and the paper's range includes a pH of 4.6.

Record-keeping is suggested

Keep a written record of every batch of product made for sale, including:

  • ​Recipe, including procedures and ingredients
  • Amount canned and sold
  • Canning date
  • Sale dates and locations
  • Gross sales receipts
  • Results of any pH test

Sanitation

Although iInspections are not required, you should consider doing the following:

  • ​Use clean equipment that has been effectively sanitized prior to use
  • Clean work surfaces and then sanitize with bleach water before and after use
  • Keep ingredients separate from other unprocessed foods
  • Keep household pets out of the work area
  • Keep walls and floors clean
  • Have adequate lighting
  • Keep window and door screens in good repair to keep insects out
  • Wash hands frequently while working
  • Consider annual testing of water if using a private well

Additional Resources

Contacts:

CContact the VDACS Food Safety and Security Program by

Other information regarding pH

What is pH?

pH is a measurement of acidity or alkalinity using a numerical scale between 1 and 14. A pH value of 1 is most acidic, a pH value of 7 is neutral and values above 7 are referred to as basic or alkaline.

Measuring pH

  •  Electronic pH meters are very accurate and pocket sized units are available for around $100.
  •  Paper strips are NOT accurate enough to measure acidity of home-canned and home-processed foods. What is equilibrium pH?

The pH of a food product after the food acid (e.g. vinegar) ishould  distributed equally throughout the product.

For example, the initial pH of the pickled cucumber that has been recently canned, will not be the same a few weeks later. It takes time for the vinegar (which is acid) to penetrate and distribute into the cucumbers. Therefore, testing the pH of only the brine (liquid) portion of a recently canned and processed product is not accurate.

How do you determine a product's equilibrium pH?

  • For foods canned and processed less than 2 months: Food sample need to be finely ground in a blender prior to pH testing.
  • For foods with a process date greater than 2 months: pH may be taken of the brine only since all contents of the canned product should be in equilibrium.

Who can test for pH?

  • The person that processed the food as long as they are capable of performing an accurate pH test.
  • Private laboratories
  • Universities

Testing frequency:

  • When testing, follow the same recipe and procedures for each batch of food to be tested.
  • A separate pH test is required for each different product offered for sale under this exemption

 

Examples of pH for different foods

  • Dill pickles (pH 2.6-3.8)
  • Tomatoes (pH 3.7-4.9)
  • Distilled water (pH 7)
  • Garlic (pH 5.3-6.3)