How Can I Sell My Home-Canned Foods, Like Jams, Salsa, Sauces, Fruits and Vegetables (large scale anywhere, or small sclae in Kansas, North Dakota, Montana and Rhode Island:
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Can I Sell My Home-Canned Salsa, Jams and Other Preserves?
Have you got a great recipe for home-made salsa, jam, jelly or other home-canned food? Your friends and family tell you that you should go into business selling it? And now you're wondering what it would take to actually sell your award-winning tomato salsa, apple butter, applesauce or strawberry jam? This page should answer your questions to help you Decide if it's right for you!
The production and sales of processed foods is governed by state and federal regulations. Each state is different, so proper advice is needed from a specialist in each state. Some states allow sales at farmer's markets of select foods; others prohibit sales altogether. Most states now have cottage food laws now that don't require a licensed kitchen. In those states, you can sell at a farmers market or roadside stand jams and jellies as well as baked goods that don't require refrigeration. Typically, in those states, you just need to label them with the weight or volume, our name, our address, the words "this item is home produced" and all the ingredients in order by weight. Usually, you can not do anything 'acidified' (like pickles), anything pressure canned, or anything needing refrigeration. For this we don't need a licensed kitchen or any inspections. "
States with Cottage Food Laws
The vast majority of us now live in states that either have cottage food laws or exemptions. So, unless you live in KS. ND, MT or RI, click on the link below:
States without Cottage food laws or exemptions:
The following, below, applies if you live in Kansas, North Dakota, Montana and Rhode Island:
A licensed kitchen
Food must be produced, processed, and held in a manner which prevents spoilage and contamination to keep it wholesome. Processing establishments must submit to unannounced inspections of the building and grounds. Unhealthy or ill persons must not be allowed to handle foods and pets are not allowed. For these reasons and others, home kitchens are not usually considered appropriate for processing purposes. In order to sell your homemade jams on a commercial basis, in most states, you'll need to have your kitchen meet commercial grade kitchen standards and pass a health department inspection, like a restaurant. People who have done this tell me it can easily cost $50,000 to convert a home kitchen.
I've heard that there are a handful of states that have small quantity exceptions and exceptions for church sales, etc., but I haven't see a comprehensive list. If you know where to find your state's webpage of rules for selling home canned goods, please send it to me, and I'll make a list here.
Canneries and licensed kitchens - One way around this is to prepare your batches in kitchen that is already licensed. Some people rent restaurant kitchens during their off-hours and do the prep and canning there. In some cases, a local cannery is the way to go. If they are licensed as a commercial kitchen (and many are), then you will be able to avoid the need and expense to rent a restaurant kitchen. See this page for local canneries.
Copackers manufacture and package foods for other companies to sell. These products range from nationally-known brands to private labels. Entrepreneurs choose to use the services of copackers for many reasons. Copackers can provide entrepreneurs with a variety of services in addition to manufacturing and packaging products. They can often help in the formulation of the product. The copacker may function only as a packer of other people's products or may be in business with his own product line. They may be, in fact, manufacturing several competing products. The range of services available from a copacker will vary depending on the size and experience of the copacker and the type of facilities and the capacity of their plant. See this page for more information about how to choose a copacker.
You may also need a state and/or local (city) business license. Your states' "secretary of state" or taxation can tell you - look on your state's government website. You may also need to verify local zoning laws, if you plan canning at home and/or selling from home.
The product liability issue
As you may have noticed in news stores, anyone that sells prepared foods is beset with false (and real) claims of food poisoning, finding strange objects in the jars and loads of lawsuits. It can be a fulltime job just fighting the frivolous lawsuits.
And there are the real cases: canning meats and dairy is very challenging to do at home; the risks are much greater for food poisoning than for high acid fruits and vegetables (like jam, applesauce and salsa). The latter are much safer, but still pose some risks. On the other hand low acid foods like canned green beans are more risky than high acid foods, but a bit safer than meats and dairy.
One advantage of using a co-packer is, since you never touch the product, your liability is greatly reduced. You "piggyback" on theco-packers production and liability insurance.
Obviously, you will need to test your products. Shelf-life determination of your product can be quite complicated. Shelf-life has many components, but can be broken down into three main categories:
- organoleptic (sensory characteristics)
Beyond the requirement to prepare the food in a licensed kitchen, there are food preparation, testing and labeling laws. Packaged foods, those which are wrapped and labeled for consumer purchase, are regulated by state agencies, usually under federal authority. Food regulations can be confusing and often complicated. In many cases, a single food product or production facility may be covered by multiple jurisdictions. Almost all processing of foods requires prior notification to the regulatory agency.
Because of the many rules for processing and preparing food for sale, the entrepreneur is advised to consult an expert prior to investing in a food processing venture. As in any business venture, know and understand the rules before you get started.
Most packaged foods are regulated by your state's Department of Agriculture. In some cases , there are exceptions (see your state's rules and local resources here) but you still want to follow all of the best practices, to avoid making anyone sick! There also are some basic regulations that all processing facilities must follow. They include Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP's) and Sanitation Standard Operation Procedures (SSOP's).
SSOP's are written procedures for sanitation activities. Click here for detailed information regarding SSOP's.
Processed and packaged foods are regulated by the FDA. They publish GMP's, which are regulations set forth to ensure that every aspect of a new product, from formulation to processing to packaging and labeling to even distribution keeps the best quality product available to consumers. GMP's are defined by the Code of Federal Regulations 21 CFR 110 as they are fundamental to food safety. The main topics discussed by this document include personnel, plant and grounds, sanitary operations, sanitary facilities and controls, equipment and utensils, processes and controls, warehousing and distribution, and natural or unavoidable defects. For a complete GMP checklist click here.
These regulations consist of Section 100 and 101 concerning labeling and Section 110 which covers Good Manufacturing Practices along with other sections that contain Standards of Identity, acceptable ingredients, and other rules. In special cases where foods are preserved with added acid or low-acid foods are canned, (pH at 4.6 and above) Sections 114 and 113 apply, respectively. These sections have special requirements, such as establishment registration under Section 108, filing of a scheduled process, and processing and packaging under the operating control of a certified supervisor.
Products held under constant refrigeration, or that are determined to be naturally acid foods with a pH of 4.6, or have a water activity (aw) of 0.85 are not covered by the provisions of 21CFR 113 or 114. However, Good Manufacturing Practices (21CFR 110) requires that adequate controls be in place to assure the products continue to meet these parameters.
There are also special regulations for canned foods specifically. Those regulations can all be found the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations.
Low Acid Canned Foods
21 CFR Part 113
Acidified Canned Foods
21 CFR Part 114
- Meat and Poultry
9 CFR Parts 300-592
Labeling requires its own explanation. "Labeling" includes all labels and any other written, printed, or graphic materials, either attached to an article or any of its containers or wrappers or accompanying the article. Brochures and other Point of Sale accompanying a food product are also considered labeling, particularly if they name or feature the food.
So who is responsible for correct labeling? In those instances where the buyer provides or prescribes the labeling, they may be held responsible, IN ADDITION TO, rather then instead of, the processor. A processor who ships unlabeled goods to be processed, labeled, or repacked at an establishment other than one he owns must have a written agreement between himself and the buyer, setting forth the specifications to be followed in labeling the goods.
With rising concerns as to food allergies the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 requires use of common English names for the major food allergens. Tree nuts must identify specific nuts such as "almonds", "pecans", or "walnuts". Also, fish and shellfish must identify species such as "tuna", "bass", "flounder", "shrimp", and "lobster". It also requires the labeling for flavors, colors, and incidental additives if they contain allergens. No minimum level of allergen is required before labeling is placed on the package. It is required regardless of the amount present in the product.
There are exemptions from the requirements for nutrition labeling (not ALL labeling requirements), provided there are no nutrition claims or other nutrition information on the label or in advertising. The exemptions apply to those firms:
of fewer than 100 full-time employees
that sell fewer than 100,000 units of a particular food, in any 12 month period
sold direct to consumers,
Your labels will probably also require a SKU, which is a unique number assigned by the store, to track sales of inventory. A UPC code and account are assigned by an independent company; they give you an account plus a bank of numbers unique to your product. If you're just starting out, though, the co-packer may let you use a variation of their existing UPC account on your product.
For labeling help, there are many places you can go for information:
- Publications for Developing a Food Business
Nutrition labeling questions and concerns can be taken to the FDA website for more guidance (Food Labeling Guide).
Almost all of the above issues involve some degree of paperwork. Most of the paperwork filed will be directly with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Paperwork dealing specifically with acidified foods (such as pickled foods and salsa) is a great area of importance. More information about filing an acidified food with the FDA can be found here.The FDA prefers that all paperwork is filed online.
Presumably, you want to do this to make a profit (not to lose money or break even). You need to think through and be able to address these questions:
Do I understand the basic marketing aspects of my product?
- Product Features
- Target Audience
- Price of Product
- Cost of Manufacturing of Product (facilities, utilities, ingredients, packaging, licensing and governmental fees)
- Other indirect costs (advertising, phones, postage, transportation, insurance)
- Hidden costs, like a slotting fee, which is a payoff to induce a store to stock your product - it's unavoidable with the big chains. Depending upon the store, they charge a few hundred dollars per store to place your product. But, if you're a small player distributing to smaller specialty and gourmet shops, you probably won't encounter slotting fees. Also expect to give away free cases with your paid orders, and spend time providing lots and lots of in-store sampling.
Am I ready to start a food business?
- Personal Characteristics
- Business Plan
- Time Commitment
- Contacts & Assistance
- Financial Status & Resources
- Labor Pool & Costs
Now, if you are still interested in selling your homemade products; go for it! But be sure to consult a good lawyer, your state agriculture department (try your county extension agent) and your local health department first to understand what you need to do to be legal and to protect your business!
Preserving food for your own home (or non-commercial) use is not regulated; however, food preservation and processing for commercial purposes (i.e., for sale) is regulated. There are federal level regulations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (also USDA for meat and poultry products), state level regulations, and often county or city regulations. For a start, most states require that you have an inspected, licensed kitchen. Just meeting the physical requirements often means spending tens of thousands of dollars to convert your home kitchen.
Some home canners gone commercial get around this by renting a commercially licensed kitchen, such as a restaurant's kitchen, during their off-hours.
Even then, there are product liability issues. If one jerk claims that he found a mouse in your jar of jam, the legal defense could wipe you out.
People HAVE done it: Famous Amos, Mrs. Fields are a couple examples of ordinary people who decided to sell their homemade foods. But they also had a lot of legal advice and financial backing. See below for many more resources:
Processed Food Business Resources
- First stop is to see what the U.S. FDA has to say at “Starting a Food
If you are wanting to sell canned, low-acid or acidified foods, also see “Acidified and Low-Acid Canned Foods”: http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~comm/lacf-toc.html
- Search through some of the internet sites from Cooperative Extension
Service programs or some other state-specific sites listed
below. An excellent source is this web page from Penn State University
Department of Food Science:
- Contact your county Cooperative Extension Agent to locate a program in
your state or contact your state university's Food Science program. See:
http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/index.html for a clickable map of
contacts who can lead you to the right person. (This site is maintained by
USDA, not the NCHFP.)
- Check your state's Department of Agriculture for resources. The National
Association of State Departments of Agriculture maintain a web site with
links to state departments of agriculture at:
- Look for "Value Added" programs that encourage small scale processing of
foods. An example of a value added process is when a strawberry grower turns
his strawberries into jam. Many state university Extension or other
agriculture programs, state departments of agriculture or rural development
centers have value-added initiatives and assistance. An internet search
using terms such as “valued added agriculture” generates a list of web
- Check to see if your state has an incubator kitchen program. Some states
have programs that help entrepreneurs develop recipes to commercialize.
These are usually test kitchens that share resources. Again, state
Departments of Agriculture or a state university's food science department
are good leads for finding incubator programs.
- It is important to look for state-specific resources to help you know what regulations will apply to your situation. However, if you want to jump-start your thinking about whether a food processing business is right for you, this web page from Penn State University Department of Food Science has some links to helpful reading for early decision making: http://foodsafety.cas.psu.edu/processor/ent_res_text2.htm#Before
Related stories and articles
- An entrepreneur selling homemade ice tea
- How to start a cookie business
- How to start your own food business, food business, foodpackaging, food labels
Sell Your Specialty Food: Market, Distribute, and Profit from Your
Kitchen Creation (Paperback)
How to Start a Home-Based Catering Business, 5th (Home-Based
Business Series) (Paperback)
Other food business links
- Starting a Food Business (FDA)
Federal Resources for Small Businesses
- Starting a Food Business - Website from The U. S. Food and Drug Administration's, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
- Internal Revenue Service
- U.S. Department of Commerce
- U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
- Environmental Protection Agency
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration
- U.S. Department of Agriculture
- U.S. Copyright Office
- Small Business Administration
- FedWorld (Federal Agency Information)
- The Bureau of Export Administration
- Economic Development Administration
- Minority Business Development Agency
- National Technology Information Service
- General Services Administration
- National Archives
- Social Security Administration
- Postal Service
- Trade and Development Agency
Credit is due to NC State Extension, VPI (Virgina Tech), Brian A. Nummer, Ph.D. and Elizabeth L. Andress, Ph. D., both of the National Center for Home Food Preservation for most of this information!
|Alabama||Starting A Food
Processing Business? What You Should Know Before You Get
(HE-753, New May 1998, Alabama Cooperative Extension System)
(PDF version of above)
|Alaska||State food safety contacts for Cooperative
Extension Service, Alaska:
|Arizona||Direct Farm Marketing
and Tourism Handbook
University of Arizona, Agricultural and Resource Economics:
|California||University of California-Davis, UC Food
From Kitchen to Market Manufacturing Options
Getting Started in the Food Business
|Colorado||State food safety contacts for Cooperative
Extension Service, Colorado:
|Connecticut||Northeast Center for Food Entrepreneurship
(A Partnership of Cornell University and University of Vermont):
|Delaware||State food safety contacts for Cooperative
Extension Service, Delaware:
|Florida||University of Florida Center for
|Georgia||Getting Started in the
Food Specialty Business,
University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service Bulletin 1051:
Is Your Agribusiness Project Feasible?,
University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service Bulletin 1066: (pdf only)
Starting a New Food Business Website, with helpful links to regulations and University of Georgia Food Science and Technology resources available to help:
Don't miss this!Starting A New Food Business in Georgia
The link to more info is https://estore.uga.edu/C21653_ustores/web/product_detail.jsp?PRODUCTID=1092
Tuesday (1-5 pm) and Wednesday (8-5)
October 9-10, 2012
Extension Food Science Teaching Facility
242 Food Science Bldg., 100 Cedar Street
University of Georgia Campus
Athens, Georgia 30602
|Hawaii||Some Costs and
Considerations for Establishing an Entrepreneurial Community
Shared-Use Kitchen or "Test-Kitchen" Incubator,
University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service Publication FMT-2:
|Idaho||University of Idaho, Food Science &
Toxicology Web Site
Food Processing Extension Programs:
|Illinois||University of Illinois, Department of
Agricultural and Consumer Economics Website
Illinois Specialty Farm Products:
|Indiana||Purdue University, Department of Food
Value-Added Processing Assistance Website:
|Iowa||Iowa State University Extension,
Website - Kitchen Incubators & Other Food-Related Small Business:
Selling Food Products,
North Central Regional Extension Publication No. 259:
Iowa Laws: Sale of Home-Prepared Foods,
Iowa State University Extension Publication PM 1294:
|Kansas||Kansas State University, Department of
Animal Sciences and Industry Website:
Value Added Services and Programs:
Kansas Department of Commerce, Agriculture Marketing Development
Making & Selling Food Products in Kentucky,
University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service Publication H.E. 9-100:
Louisiana State University, Food
|Massachusettes||Northeast Center for Food Entrepreneurship
(A Partnership of Cornell University and University of Vermont):
|Maine||Starting a Home
Business in Tough Times,
University of Maine Cooperative Extension Bulletin #4154:
|Maryland||State food safety contacts for Cooperative
Extension Service, Maryland:
|Michigan||Food Regulations For
Small Home Business,
Michigan State University Extension Publication Small Business Bulletin E317921:
|Minnesota||Starting a Food
Business in Minnesota,
Minnesota Department of Agriculture Publication:
University of Minnesota, Department of Food Science and Nutrition Website - Pilot Plant:
|Mississippi||Exploring the Potential
for New Food Products,
Mississippi State University Food and Fiber Center,
Extension Service Publication 2170:
Considerations Before Starting a Small Food-Processing Business,
Mississippi State University Extension Service Information Sheet 1554
State of Missouri - Frequently asked questions
University of Missouri, Outreach and Extension Website -
Missouri Value Added Development Center:
Getting from Idea to Implementation,
Missouri Department of Agriculture AG Innovation Guide:
|Montana||Starting A Specialty
Montana State University Extension Service Resource Guide:
Montana State University, Extension Service Web Site (online training series) -
Growing A Small Business and Staying on Top:
|Nebraska||University of Nebraska, The Food Processing
Center Web Site -
University of Nebraska, The Food Processing Center Web Site -
Food Entrepreneur Assistance Program:
|Nevada||State food safety contacts for Cooperative
Extension Service, Nevada:
|New Hampshire||New Hampshire Specialty
Food Producers Handbook and Resource Guide,
University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Publication:
Northeast Center for Food Entrepreneurship
(A Partnership of Cornell University and the University of Vermont):
|New Jersey||Rutgers State University, NJ Agricultural
Experiment Station Web Site -
Food Innovation Research & Extension Center (FIRE):
|New Mexico||State food safety contacts for Cooperative
Extension Service, New Mexico:
In the Specialty Food Business, Getting Started Is No Piece of Cake,
New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service News Release:
|New York||Northeast Center for Food Entrepreneurship
(at Cornell University)
New York State Food Venture Center Publications (at Cornell University):
|North Carolina||North Carolina State University,
Cooperative Extension Web Site -
Developing a Food Business:
North Carolina State University, Cooperative Extension Web Site -
Publications for Developing a Food Business:
|North Dakota||Food Entrepreneur, your
Resource Guide to the Food Industry,
North Dakota State University Extension Service Online publication:
Developing a New Co-Owned Agricultural Business: How do we Start a Value-Added Firm?,
North Dakota State University Extension Service Publication EC-1137:
|Ohio||Ohio State University, Food Science and
Technology Web Site -
Gould Food Industries Center:
Ohio State University, College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Web Site -
Small Business Series (Entrepreneurhsip, Home Business & Micro Enterprises):
|Oklahoma||Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma Food
and Agricultural Products Research and Technology Center
|Oregon||Oregon State university and Oregon
Department of Agriculture Web Site -
Food Innovation Center:
Oregond State University, Extension Service News Release (and contact for Food Marketing Specialist) -
OSU to Offer "Food School":
|Pennsylvania||Penn State University, Deparment of Food
Science Web Site -
Resources for Small Food Processors & Potential Entrepreneurs
|Rhode Island||Northeast Center for Food Entrepreneursheip
(A Partnership of Cornell University and University of Vermont):
|South Carolina||Starting a Food
Business: An Overview,
Clemson Extension Home & Garden Information Center Publication HGIC 3867:
|South Dakota||South Dakota Department of Agriculture,
Division of Ag Development Web Site -
The Value Added And Crop Marketing Program:
State food safety contacts for Cooperative Extension Service, South Dakota:
|Tennessee||Getting Started in a
Food Manufacturing Business in Tennessee,
University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service Publication PB1399:
Starting Your Own Wine Business,
University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service Publication PB1688:
Considerations for a Value-Added Agribusiness,
University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service Publication PB1642:
Design and Construction of Food Processing Operations,
University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service Publication ADC Info #18:
|Texas||Texas A&M University, Texas Cooperative
Extension Web Site -
Home-Based & Micro Business, Entrepreneurship:
Adding Value to Agricultural Products,
Texas A&M University Agricultural Extension Service Publication L-5361:
Evaluating Your Value-Added Business Plan,
Texas A&M University Agricultural Extension Service Publication L-5438:
State food safety contacts for Cooperative Extension Service, Utah:
|Vermont||Northeast center for Food Entrepreneurship
(A Partnership of Cornell University and University of Vermont):
|Virginia||Starting a Food
Processing Business in Virginia,
Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension Publication 348-963:
Products for Market: Start with Food Safety,
Washington State University Cooperative Extension Publication EB-1902:
Value-Added Enterprises for Small-Scale Farmers,
Washington State University Cooperative Extension, King County,
Agriculture and Natural Resources Fact Sheet #518:
Washington State University, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition Web Site -
Food Processing Pilot Plant:
|West Virginia||State food safety contacts for Cooperative
Extension Service, West Virginia:
|Wisconsin||University of Wisconsin, Cooperative
Extension Web Site -
Starting a Value-Added Farm-Food Business:
|Wyoming||Wyoming Business Council Division of
If your business is agriculture-related, the Wyoming Business Council Division of Agriculture may be able to offer you assistance with marketing, market research and training. Call Bill Bunce at (307) 777-6581.
Wyoming Business Council Web Site -
Promoting Products "Made in Wyoming":
University of Wyoming, Small Business Development Center Web Site:
Credit is due to Brian A. Nummer, Ph.D. and Elizabeth L. Andress, Ph. D., both of the National Center for Home Food Preservation for most of this information!
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