As soon as Texas passed its initial 2011 Cottage Food Law allowing home bakers to sell their goods at farmers markets, fairs and festivals, home bakers took the state by storm. In the first few years after its passage, more than 1,400 home-based entrepreneurs enrolled in the food handler preparation course required to begin baking at home for profit. In 2013, the law was expanded, and even more home entrepreneurs joined the ranks. Known locally as the Texas Baker’s Bill, the law permits bakers to use their home kitchens to make and sell homemade goods at local markets, fairs and special events.
History and Definition of Cottage Laws
The first Texas cottage food law was passed in 2011 and only permitted the sale of baked goods, jams, jellies and dried herbs. The second law was passed in 2013 and expanded the types of things that could be made at home for sale to the public. The law defines a cottage food production business as an individual working out of his own home to produce baked goods and other food items. These include:
- coated and uncoated nuts
- unroasted nut butters, fruit butters, canned jams and jellies
- fruit pies, dehydrated fruit or vegetables, including beans, popcorn and popcorn snacks
- cereal including granola
- vinegar, pickles and mustard
- roasted coffee, dry tea, dried herbs or dried herb mix
Producers must not have an annual gross income of more than $50,000 from the sale of those foods, which are only allowed to be sold at the provider’s home, a farmers’ market, a farm stand, or a municipal, county or nonprofit fair, festival or event.
What Is Not Permitted
Texas’ cottage food laws have their limits. You are not permitted to sell any food that requires time and temperature control to prevent spoilage – referred to as potentially hazardous foods. However bakers are permitted to use milk, eggs and cream in their baked goods provided that the final product does not require refrigeration.
The list of foods that are not permitted to be made by home entrepreneurs includes:
- fresh or dried meat or seafood products
- canned fruits and vegetables
- butter, milk and dairy products, such as cheeses and yogurt
- cut fresh fruits and vegetables
- juices and other beverages, including but not limited to lemonade and hot chocolate
- focaccia-style breads with vegetables or cheeses, dried pasta and salsa
Foods may only be sold or delivered to customers at farmers’ markets, farm stands, fairs and municipal, country or nonprofit fairs, festivals or events. Cottage bakers may not sell their goods on the internet, ship or sell goods to grocers, coffee shops or restaurants.
Packaging Requirements and Government Intervention
The law states that no health department or local authority can regulate the home baker’s production of any of the permitted items. The only exception is the requirement that all bakers obtain the basic food handler’s certification. The local department of health and human services can take action only if they have reason to believe the baker’s products are an immediate and serious threat to human life or health.
Items must be packaged in such a way that prevents the product from becoming contaminated and must adhere to strict labeling requirements. All foods must be labeled with the name and physical address of the cottage food production and the usual, well-known name of the item, such as brownies or granola. Labels must also include information about any major food allergens that were used in the production of the product, such as eggs, nuts, soy, peanuts, milk or wheat. All labels must include this statement: "This food is made in a home kitchen and is not inspected by the Department of State Health Services or a local health department."
Required Food Handler’s Card
Anyone interested in starting a home-based baking business in Texas must obtain a food handler’s card before selling their products. Employees, relatives or friends who may be assisting you must also obtain cards if at any time they’re not being supervised by you. Family members who live in the same household do not need to acquire handler’s cards.
Cottage food producers must successfully complete the Texas food handler’s course to get a card which is good for two years and must be kept current for as long as they are running a cottage food business. The cards do not have to be registered with the Health Department unless you are also seeking a job in the food service industry. Courses may be taken in person or online. A list of approved online courses is available from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Frances Katz is an attorney who writes about legal issues in business for a variety of publications including The New York Times, The Week, Paste, The Independent and The New York Times. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.