Rules & Regulations for Selling Food Items Online

Various jars of preserves
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If Grandma's chutney recipe or your own homemade salsa could become the next hot Internet food item, then you'll need to follow the rules and regulations of selling food items online. Each state's specific guidelines vary, so check with your state's small business office about the particular rules and required paperwork. However, there are general guidelines to follow for establishing yourself as an online food seller.

Licensed Kitchen

Follow proper food safety rules by making your food items in a licensed kitchen. Food must be produced, processed and stored in a manner that prevents contamination and spoiling. In most states, you'll need to have your kitchen or a shared kitchen meet commercial-grade kitchen standards and also pass a health department inspection. The local Public Health Department can give you more information about your specific business regulations.

Business License

Research your state's government website to determine the local and/or state business licenses required to run a business. Also check zoning laws if you plan on canning or creating your food items at home.

Processed and Packaged Foods

If you plan to sell processed and packaged foods online, then contact your state's Department of Agriculture, which regulates these types of foods. This department can let you know what processing regulations you must follow.


Labeling food items to sell online also carries rules and regulations. Brochures, nutrition labels and any written or printed material accompanying the food item falls under the label category. In addition, according to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, food products containing common allergen foods, such as peanuts or milk products, must contain a warning.

Shipping Regulations

Shipping food items falls under the jurisdiction of the FDA food item shipping regulations. These regulations govern the types of food items covered, the types of food items exempt, registration and prior notice of importation. Register all food products you will be shipping with the FDA, as part of the prior notice regulations. Shipments containing meat, poultry and egg products falling under exclusive USDA jurisdiction are exempt.

Sales Tax

Selling food items online is different than providing them in a store, as per a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that states cannot charge an online retailer sales tax unless the retailer has a physical presence in the state. If your food business is exclusively online, you do not need to charge sales tax. However, if you have a storefront or other physical presence, then you need to charge your customers sales tax. Online shopping cart services have automatic sales tax calculators. For further information, contact your state's revenue agency.

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