Selling food from home in Georgia is legal provided you follow the rules for Georgia's "cottage food" program. Since 2012, the program allows home cooks to sell goods included in the state's cottage foods list provided they take out a license. Learn the rules before starting a food business in Georgia.
What Can You Cook?
The Cottage Food Program is a trade-off. You don't have to meet the same regulations as your local restaurants, but when you're selling food from home in Georgia, it has to be what the state classifies as "non-potentially hazardous," including:
- Cakes, pastries and cookies
- Loaf bread, rolls and biscuits
- Homemade candy
- Fruit pies
- Jams, jellies and preserves
- Dried fruits
- Dry herbs, seasonings and herb mixes
- Cereal, trail mix and granola
- Nuts, both coated and uncoated
- Vinegar, including flavored vinegar
- Popcorn, popcorn balls and cotton candy
Where Can You Sell?
Another restriction on a home-catering business in Georgia is that a Cottage Food License is more limited than a restaurant's Food Sales Establishment License. You can only sell to consumers at nonprofit events or for-profit events such as a farmers' market or to Georgia customers over the internet.
What you can't do is ship products across state lines or sell to restaurants, grocery stores and similar businesses, nor can you distribute your wares wholesale. These require a Food Sales Establishment License, and those aren't available for homemade goods.
Laying the Groundwork
The Department of Agriculture isn't the only body with which you have to deal. Before buying supplies or setting up a website, talk to your local government about any ordinances or licensing they require for new businesses. Some cities or counties may not allow home-based businesses at all.
Water is another issue:
- If you use a well, you must pay to have it tested for bacteria and nitrates. The Department of Agriculture can perform an annual test for $100.
- If you're hooked up to the public water supply, the state assumes the quality is high enough to be safe.
- If you use the local public sewage system, contact the utility to see if a home kitchen is acceptable.
- If you use a private septic system, talk to your county or city health department about whether the system can handle the output from your business.
The last step is to complete a food-safety training course and pass an exam. The state maintains a list of acceptable training programs on its website. When you fill out your license application, you'll need to indicate that you've completed all the prerequisites, or you won't be approved.
The Georgia Cottage Food Permit
Once you've completed the preparations, download an application for a Georgia Cottage Food Permit from the department's website. Along with your name, address and business name, you have to list the types of goods you're planning to sell. The license only authorizes you to produce those items. If you want to expand later, you'll need to reapply.
You can submit the license online or in hard copy along with proof of citizenship and a $100 annual licensing fee. Businesses that apply after June only pay a $50 fee the first year.
If the license looks good, the Department of Agriculture will make a one-time inspection of your kitchen to confirm that everything's legit. Unlike a restaurant, you don't have to worry about return inspections unless you reapply to sell more kinds of food, or there's reason to suspect you've triggered a food-based illness outbreak.
Labeling Your Food
When you're selling food from home in Georgia, the state requires that you label your packaging to provide buyers with information such as:
- Your business name and address
- The name of the product
- A list of ingredients and subingredients in order of weight
- Total weight of the product
- Nutritional information
- A list of any potential allergens in the product, such as milk, eggs, wheat or peanuts
- A legible statement indicating that the item was made in a cottage food operation that is not subject to food-safety inspections
The Department of Agriculture will review your labels to see that they meet the proper format. It won't inspect the labeling on individual packages.
Fraser Sherman has written about every aspect of business: how to start one, how to keep one in the black, the best business structure, the details of financial statements. He's also run a couple of small businesses of his own. He lives in Durham NC with his awesome wife and two wonderful dogs. His website is frasersherman.com