Selling Cottage Food During A Pandemic
Restaurant dining rooms are closed. Groups of more than 10 are prohibited. Social distancing is our new norm in Arkansas. So can Cottage Food items be sold during a pandemic? The short answer is yes.
Cottage Food items by definition are potentially non-hazardous foods. Arkansas law includes a specific list of food items that can be made in home kitchens that are not inspected by the health department. State law also tells people where Cottage Foods can be sold – where the food is made, at farmers markets, in a pop-up shop and online farmers’ markets.
Health department advisories issued in recent weeks related to COVID-19 have focused on employers and public gatherings. These advisories are helpful for Cottage Food operators too and involve common sense sanitation practices that help prevent transmission and contact with the virus.
For example, the Arkansas Department of Health released the following list on how to prevent COVID-19 in restaurants:
- Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
- Clean and sanitize surfaces that are frequently touched including countertops
- Follow manufacturer instructions for cleaning products. Click here for a list of EPA-approved emerging pathogen sanitizers.
- Sanitize food contact surfaces
- Sanitize non-food contact surfaces with ½ cup of regular, unscented bleach per gallon of water followed by a 5-minute contact time.
The health department may release more specific Cottage Food guidelines in coming weeks. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports that currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19.
Another pressing issue may be access to a market or selling your items. Most communities have shut down their farmers’ markets or limited sales because of the prohibition on more than 10 people gathering. Right now is not the best time to invite customers to your home either.
If you feel compelled to continue your Cottage Food sales, consider using online advertising and create points of distribution for pick up with customers for a specific time.
Cottage Food operators can continue operating a pop-up shop but they must be present or have an employee present at the sale. Cottage Food may not be sold to a restaurant or retail food establishment – this has long been the law and that hasn’t changed.
The Arkansas Department of Agriculture has created a map showing where food may be accessed during this pandemic. This can include farmers' markets or individual sellers. View the Arkansas COVID - 19 Food Access Map. Or click here to request your business be added.
The Arkansas Health Department released guidance Monday specifically for Farmers Markets in Arkansas. Find it here: https://www.healthy.arkansas.gov/images/uploads/pdf/Guidance_for_Farmers_Markets_3-30-20_jj.pdf
What is Considered A Cottage Food?
In Arkansas, the foods that are considered Cottage Foods are:
- Bakery products
- Fruit butters
- Chocolate-covered fruit and berries that are not cut
Note that sugar-free jams, jellies, fruit butters and some candy and bakery products made with sugar substitutes are considered potentially hazardous food and may not be sold as a Cottage Food.
Food items that must be kept refrigerated or hot to remain safe to eat are not allowed to be sold as a Cottage Food item and are considered potentially hazardous foods. Examples are cheesecake, cream pies or bakery items containing meat, cream or cheese filling.
Not every food made at home is considered a Cottage Food. Find out more about the differences between Cottage Foods and Manufactured Foods at https://www.uaex.uada.edu/business-communities/local-foods/cottage-foods-vs-manufactured-foods.aspx.
Have A Specific Question?
The Arkansas Health Department can answer your question about whether your product can be sold to the public as a Cottage Food or if you need to have a permit. Contact the environmental health specialist at your local health unit. Find your local health department unit at www.healthy.arkansas.gov/local-health-units.