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District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.) Cottage Food Laws and Regulations: How to sell your homemade foods in District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.)

District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.) Cottage Food Laws, Regulations and Facts

Date of the enactment of the Cottage Food Act: 2013

The Act allows residents of the District of Columbia to register as a Cottage Food Business and prepare certain foods from their residential kitchens and sell them at farmers markets and public events.

Allowed foods

  • breads, cookies,
  • fruit pies,
  • jams, jellies, preserves, fruit butters,
  • honey, sorghum,
  • cracked nuts,
  • packaged spices and spice mixes,
  •  dry cookie, cake, bread, and soup mixes;

Only the foods that have been approved by DC Health can be sold. However, section 103.3 and 103.4 of the D.C. Cottage Food Regulations in Title 25-K of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations: an owner has the opportunity to request to produce, package or sell a food product that is not on the approved list if the owner can present a confirmation of the food product's pH value and water activity from any state accredited laboratory to DC Health for review and approval.

Prohibited foods

Some examples of prohibit include (but is not limited to):

  • beer or other alcohol products
  • canned fruit, canned vegetables, canned vegetable butters, and canned salsas
  • apple butter, pumpkin butter, or other fruit butters
  • juices
  • Meat and poultry: fresh, frozen, dried or other
  • pet treats

If your food product does not meet the definition of a Cottage Food:

Don't give up. You may still be able to make and sell it commercially, through a startup approach.

First, you may be able to rent space in a local licensed commercial kitchen.

Second, if that doesn't work, you may be able to get a co-packer to make the food for you.

See this page for detailed information about selling foods that do not meet the Cottage Food definition

Where may the foods be prepared?

Cottage food products can only be prepared and packaged in a home kitchen that is located in the primary residence of the cottage food business owner as listed on the Cottage Food Business Registry Application. Cottage food products must also be stored within the kitchen in which they are approved to be made. The use of a shed or garage is not approved for the storage of finished products. You may not use a rented kitchen, church kitchen, a vacation home, other second home

Definitions:

  • A "potentially hazardous food" or "Time/Temperature Control for Safety Food (TCS)" is a food that requires time and temperature controls to prevent pathogenic microorganism growth or toxin formation. It includes an animal food that is raw or heat-treated, a plant food that is heat-treated or consists of raw seed sprouts, cut melons, cut leafy greens, cut tomatoes or mixtures of cut tomatoes that are not modified to prevent pathogenic microorganism growth or toxin formation, or garlic-in-oil mixtures that are not modified to prevent pathogenic microorganism growth or toxin formation when held outside of refrigerated temperatures.

Licensing

Residents of the District of Columbia must register as a Cottage Food Business. The owner of a cottage food business must obtain a Cottage Food Business Registry Number by submitting a Cottage Food Business Registry Application in compliance with the DC Cottage Food Regulations prior to the business operating..

To get started:

  • Home Occupancy Permit (Home Occupancy Permit dc.gov/quick/1457) from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA)
  • Proof of calibrated scale(s) if your food will be sold by weight from the Office of Weights and Measures at DCRA
  • Certified Food Protection Manager's Certification (CFPM)
    (Certified Food Protection Manager's Certification .dc.gov/node/1405511).
  • DC-Issued Certified Protection Manager ID-Card, Issued by DC Health based on your CFPM Certification
  • Submit a Cottage Food Business Registry Application DC Health at 899 North Capitol, St. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002
  • Submit an application review fee of $50.00 (which covers 2 years) to DC Health in the form of check, money order, cash, or credit/debit. Make checks payable to DC Treasurer.

Inspections

A DC Health inspector is authorized to enter your home to:

  •  Conduct a preoperational inspection on an agreed upon, scheduled date and time during normal business hours from Monday through Friday,
  •  Investigate a foodborne illness outbreak, consumer complaint or other public health emergency,
  • Whenever DC Health has reason to believe the cottage food business is operating in violation of the D.C. Cottage Food Regulation in Title 25-K of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations, or is operating in an unsanitary manner.

Packaging

Cottage food products may be sold in food grade packaging; food grade containers are those that do not transfer toxic substances to the food which is contained in the package. Packages should be used for their intended purpose. You can check with the manufacturer of the packaging you would like to use to see if it has been approved for use as a food contact by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or NSF (NSF International, formerly the National Sanitation Foundation). Cottage food products may be sold in food grade packaging that is suitable for the product, with the following exceptions:

  •  Hermetically sealed food jars may not be used
  • Reduced oxygen packaging methods may not be used
  • Acidified or as low acid canned foods packaging may not be used

Labeling requirements

All packaged cottage food products are required to have the following label information on the packaging:

  • Cottage food business identification number
  • Name of the cottage food product
  • Ingredients of the cottage food product in descending order or amount of each ingredient by weight
  • Net weight or net volume of the cottage food product
  • Allergen information as specified by federal labeling requirements in 21 CFR Section 101, Food Labeling, if the cottage food product is made from foods including but not limited to: eggs, milk, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts (such as pecans, almonds, cashews, pistachios, and walnuts), soybeans, fish (such as bass, flounder, cod), and crustacean shellfish (such as crabs, shrimp, and lobsters)
  • If any nutritional claim is made, nutritional information as specified by federal labeling requirements in 21 CFR Part 101, Food Labeling and 9 CFR Part 317, Subpart B, Nutrition Labeling
  • A statement printed in 10-point font or larger type with in a color that provides clear contrast to the background of the label that reads: Made by a cottage food business that is not subject to the District of Columbia's food safety regulations.

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".

Here is a free Microsoft Word label template which you can download and edit. These labels are already formatted to fit on Avery Template 22820 Print-to-the-Edge Oval, Labels 2" x 3-1/3", 8 per Sheet, Glossy White. You can get the label stock online (see at right).

Depending on the size of your business, your label must comply with Federal label regulations and with the new nutritional labeling law. You can download a copy of the FDA Food Labeling Guide here it s an illustrated booklet that should answer all your questions. You may see that the sample label does not include a "nutrional panel" (calories, fat, protein, vitamins, etc.) . This is because if you sell (in the U.S. only) fewer than 10,000 units and hire fewer than 10 full-time employees yearly; you do not have to have a nutrition panel on your label, nor file a small business nutritional labeling exemption notice with the FDA.

Allergens

 If your 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.

Where may Cottage Food Production Operations sell the food products?

Foods prepared in residential kitchens by approved Cottage Food Businesses are permitted to be sold only at farmers markets and public events within the District of Columbia. Internet sales and wholesale are not allowed.

Other requirements

  • inspections: DC Health is required to conduct a pre-operational inspection of the residential kitchen where cottage food products will be prepared and packaged. The kitchen must be approved by DC Health before a cottage food business can begin operating.
  • Individuals can only sell their products directly to consumers, (that allows sales from home and at events, as defined by DCPA) But good luck finding the definition of a "public event".  I still haven't found it.
  • Annual revenue from the sale of cottage food products shall not exceed $25,000.
  • Taxes: A cottage food business is not exempt from any applicable District of Columbia or federal tax laws.
  • Commercial equipment may not be used for a cottage food business. Only equipment designed for residential use is permitted.
  • Recalls: If an ingredient I use is subject to a recall because it may make people sick or has been determined as the cause of foodborne illness outbreak, you should notify DC Health at foo[email protected]  and cease distribution of the product immediately.

More D.C. resources:

Title 25-K of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (Food Safety and Hygiene Regulations) provides the regulations that pertain to this kind of operation.

Below are documents for guidance on safely operating your Cottage Food Business. This is not a complete list and you are encouraged to learn as much as you can about safe food handling. Please review the checklist below. It contains contact information for the Office of Zoning Administration (OZA) to obtain the Home Occupancy Permit (HOP) as well as Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) if you need to have scales certified for food items sold by weight. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the Division at [email protected].

Cottage Food Business Guidance:
DC Cottage Food Important Information
DC Checklist
DC Cottage Food Business Regulations
DC Frequently Asked Questions

The Cottage Food Business Registry Application is below. The application must be submitted to DC Health's Processing Center located at 899 North Capitol Street NE, Washington DC 20002, with an application fee of $50. Complete applications will be reviewed within thirty (30) business days. Once your application has been reviewed and approved, a representative from the Food Safety and Hygiene Inspection Services Division will contact you to schedule your pre-operational inspection. All inspections will take place during normal business hours unless previously approved by a supervisor. To prepare for your inspection, please familiarize yourself of Subtitle K of Title 25 of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations and view our guidance materials.

Law 23-61 removes the annual revenue cap on cottage food businesses and allows all direct sales of cottage food products. It also revises inspection requirements.

Cottage Food Business Registry Application:
DC Cottage Food Registry Application

Certified Food Protection Manager (CFPM) Certificate:
DC CFPM Information
DC Application for CFPM ID card

Recommendations:

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

Training

Take the ServSafe® training classes for Manager and employees, the 7th Edition Book that accompanies this course should be purchased here.. 

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 inspections 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

Best Practices

  • Allergens: Most state home baking acts require an "ingredient statement" and/or an "allergen listing" on the label of the bakery item for sale; but if your state does not, you should anyway. The eight major food allergens are
    • milk,
    • eggs,
    • fish,
    • crustacean shellfish,
    • tree nuts,
    • peanuts,
    • wheat and
    • soybean.
  • Cross-allergenicity: There are also ingredients available, even flours, that can cause a cross-allergenicity. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology explains cross-allergenicity as an allergic reaction when proteins in one substance are similar to the proteins found in another substance. For example, consumption of lupine flour may trigger an allergic reaction to peanuts, and cricket flour may trigger an allergic reaction to shellfish. Again, providing such information might be a beneficial marketing tool and help keep potential consumers safe.
  • The 2 Hour/4 Hour Rule - Anyone wishing to make and sell refrigerated bakery items should remember to follow the "2 Hour/4 Hour Rule." This is a system that can be implemented when potentially hazardous foods are out of temperature control (temperatures greater than 45 degrees Fahrenheit) during preparation, serving or display for sale. The rule guidelines are as follows:
    • If a potentially hazardous food has been out of temperature control for 2 hours or less, then it may continue to be used or be placed back in the refrigerator.
    • If a potentially hazardous food has been out of temperature control for more than 2 hours but less than 4 hours, it needs to be used quickly or discarded.
    • If a potentially hazardous food has been out of temperature control for more than 4 hours, it must be discarded.

General information from other sources

Questions? Contact Information:

Please review the checklist below. It contains contact information for the Office of Zoning Administration (OZA) to obtain the Home Occupancy Permit (HOP) as well as Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) if you need to have scales certified for food items sold by weight. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the Division at [email protected].

DC Health Department

899 North Capitol Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002.

DC Department of Health (DC Health) at (202) 535-2180.

Eemail [email protected].




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