Updated: September 2, 2021
By Shauna Henley , and Ginger S. Myers

Cottage Food Business Law

In 2012, Maryland passed a modified Cottage Law, allowing for citizens to operate a home-based bakery or home food processing company. The law was updated in 2018.  The law is located here at MD COMAR Regulations,  This law establishes requirements with regard to cottage food businesses (i.e., businesses that produce or package cottage food products in a residential kitchen for annual revenues of up to $25,000 from the sale of those products.

The law specifies that a cottage food business in compliance with these requirements is not required to be licensed by the Maryland Department of Health. A “cottage food product” is a non-hazardous food that is sold at a farmer’s market, public event, directly from the producer’s home, online, and by personal delivery or mail delivery. By law, the owner of a cottage food business may sell only cottage food products stored on the premises of the business without needing a food license. If other non-cottage items or potentially hazardous items are sold in conjunction, a food permit is then required for retail and/or storage.

Cottage Food Products That May Be Produced Include:

  • Non-potentially hazardous baked goods [bagels, pastries, brownies, breads, cakes, pies. No cream cheese, custards, or other potentially hazardous fillings, glazes, fruits, or cream cheeses that require refrigeration.
  • High-acid fruit jams, preserves, and jellies (made only from Oranges, Nectarines, tangerines, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, boysenberries, cherries, cranberries, strawberries, red currants, or another fruit mixture that produces an acid-canned product at 4.6 pH or less.)
  • Fruit butters (made only from apples, apricots, grapes, peaches, plums, prunes, quince, or another fruit that produces an acid-canned product at 4.6 pH or less.)
  • Natural Honey (unflavored and without any processing or additives; flavored honey requires a processing permit from Maryland Department of Health.)
  • Hard candy (made in a home kitchen that does not require further refrigeration. Chocolates, caramel, fudge, and other soft candies require a permit.)

For more information or for items that do not meet the criteria above, need refrigeration, or do not meet the high-acid canning regulations, contact either your local health department or the Maryland Department of Health

All Cottage Foods Must Be Prepackaged With A Label That Contains The Following Information:

  • The name and address of the business where the food is made. Listing a P.O. BOX address is not permissible.
  • The name, ingredients, and net weight/volume of the product. Allergen information as specified by federal labeling requirements; “Major food allergen” includes milk, egg, fish (bass, flounder, or cod), crustacean (crab, lobster, or shrimp), tree nuts (almonds, pecans, or walnuts), wheat, peanuts, soybeans.
  • Nutritional information as specified by federal labeling requirements, if any nutritional information claim is made about the product.
  • A printed statement in 10 point type or larger, in a color that provides a clear contrast to the background of the label: “Made by a cottage food business that is not subject to Maryland food safety regulations.”
  • In addition, the owner must comply with all applicable county and municipal laws and ordinances regulating the preparation processing, storage, and sale of cottage food products.

Cottage laws can be helpful since they can reduce the amount of start-up cash a business owner may need since the owner might not have to pay business insurance or rent a building. On the other hand, the laws must be enforced to protect citizens from food that might get them sick or products that might be unsafe. Cottage food laws often limit the retail outlets for this type of food.  However, starting small and learning about operating your own business and feedback about your specialty food product is priceless.

Explore Additional Cottage Food Resources

Need More Information?

Maryland Department of Health

Office of Food Protection

Email: mdh.foodplanreview@maryland.gov

Telephone: (410) 767-8400

 Molly Gillingham

Job Title: Acting Program Manager 

Organization:  Food Quality Assurance,
Maryland Department of Agriculture

Email: molly.gillingham@maryland.gov  

Telephone: (410) 841-5769

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration website provides great resources for guidance on food labeling: https://www.fda.gov/Food/LabelingNutrition/default.htm

Packaging Your Food Products

Did you know food packaging is a $110 billion per year industry? Food packaging is the third-largest industry in the United States. An estimated 350 billion packages exist on U.S. store shelves alone according to Food and Beverage magazine. Packaging should keep the food in good condition until it is sold and consumed, and to encourage customers to purchase the product. Correct packaging is essential to achieve both these objectives.

Food packaging has several primary objectives. The biggest purpose is the physical protection of the food. Packaging provides:

  1. Physical protection
    The food enclosed in the package may require protection from, among other things, shock, vibration, compression, temperature, etc.
  2. Barrier protection
    A barrier from oxygen, water vapor, dust, etc., is often required. Extending shelf life is a primary function.
  3. Containment or agglomeration
    Small items are typically grouped together in one package to allow efficient handling. Liquids, powders, and granular materials need containment.
  4. Convenience
    Packages can have features which add convenience in distribution, handling, stacking, display, sale, opening, reclosing, use, and reuse.
  5. Portion control
    Single serving packaging has a precise amount of contents to control usage. It also aids the control of inventory; selling sealed one-liter-bottles of milk, rather than having people bring their own bottles to fill themselves.

Last but not least, packaging provides a space to post nutritional labels as well as marketing information such as name of product, brand and price.

Labeling Your Food Products

Food labeling laws make sure consumers get vital information about the foods they consume.

It is very important to label your products correctly. All food products, whether sold as a cottage food, on-farm processed, or sold under a commercial license, must be properly labeled to sell legally.  

All cottage food products must contain a label that includes the following information. Commercially produced foods are not required to include the cottage food production reference.

  • The name and address of the cottage food production operation.
  • The name of the food product (e.g.,“Chocolate Chip Cookies”)
  • The ingredients of the food product, in descending order of predominance by weight. This means your heaviest ingredient will be listed first and the least heavy ingredient listed last. Also, ingredients must be broken down completely if the ingredient itself contains two or more ingredients. For example, if unsalted butter is one of your ingredients, then you would list it as follows: Butter (Sweet Cream, Natural Flavor).
  • The net quantity of contents in both the U.S. Customary System (inch/pound) and International System of Units (metric system). This must be placed within the bottom 30% of the label in a line parallel to the bottom of the package. An example of what this would look like in both the U.S. Customary System and International System is: Net Wt 8 oz (227 g)
  • If this product was made under the Maryland Cottage Food law, the label must contain the following statement in ten-point type: "Made by a cottage food business that is not subject to Maryland's food safety regulations." (10-point type) This statement is required because it gives notice to the purchaser of the food product that the product was produced in a private home that is not required to be inspected by a food regulatory authority.
  • Allergen Statement. There are 8 foods considered a major food allergen under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act that must be declared on your label if they are contained in your food product. They include:
  1. Milk
  2. Egg
  3. Fish
    For fish, the specific species must be declared. (e.g., Bass)
  4. Crustacean Shellfish
    For shellfish, the specific species must be declared. (e.g., crab)
  5. Tree Nuts
    For tree nuts, the specific type of nut must be declared. (e.g., Almond)
  6. Wheat
  7. Peanuts
  8. Soybeans

If any of these major allergens are contained in your food product, then you may declare them in either of two different ways.

First, you can list the allergens in a “Contains” statement. The “Contains” statement would follow the ingredients list and look like this: “Contains: Wheat, Egg.”

The second way to declare an allergen is in your ingredients list. An example would be: “Enriched flour (wheat flour, malted barley, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin monotrate, riboflavin, folic acid), Egg.” In this example, wheat and egg are specifically stated within the ingredients so you would not need to put an additional “Contains” statement.

Below is a sample label for a cottage food product taken from The Forrager website at https://forrager.com/law/maryland/#labeling

Chocolate Chip Cookies

"Made by a cottage food business that is not subject to Maryland's food safety regulations." (10-point type)

Forrager Cookie Company
123 Chewy Way, Cookietown, MD 73531

Ingredients: enriched flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), butter (cream, salt), semi-sweet chocolate (sugar, chocolate, cocoa butter, milkfat, soy lecithin, natural flavors), brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, vanilla extract (vanilla bean extract, alcohol, sugar), baking soda, salt (salt, calcium silicate)

Contains: milk, eggs, wheat, soy

NET WT 2 lb 4 oz (1.02 kg)

Nutrition Facts

Nutritional information is not required for cottage foods or on-farm processed foods unless a nutrient content claim or health claim is made. An example of a nutrient content claim would be “low fat.” An example of a health claim would be “may reduce heart disease.” If either or both of these claims are made, then you are required to include a Nutrition Facts panel on your food product. More information on the Nutrition Facts Panel can be found on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website.