Cottage food law

With the new cottage food law in Nebraska, artisans now have more flexibility in selling their homemade goods.

If you’ve got the best pumpkin bread in the state of Nebraska but no commercial kitchen to bake it in, then you’re in luck — as long as you don’t add that scrumptious cream cheese icing.

With passage of LB304 in the Nebraska Pure Food Act this past year, legalizing “cottage foods” for sale through a much wider array of retail spaces in Nebraska, many entrepreneurs looking to sell their home-baked goods directly to consumers have hit the retail jackpot. There are still, however, a few “I”s to dot and “T”s to cross before these products can hit the local markets — like registering with the state of Nebraska, which means some mandatory training to learn those do’s and don’ts.

“Our training course just went live a week or two ago, and we are very excited about it,” said Cindy Brison, Nebraska Extension Educator and registered dietician nutritionist for Douglas and Sarpy counties. “It’s the perfect time for this because everyone is gearing up to sell at the farmers markets.”

Extension’s Cottage Food Law Training is an online course, and for $25, Brison said participants will receive comprehensive education on food safety — best practices for preparing, packaging and labeling homemade, shelf stable food. Discussions will include inventive techniques to meet food safety standards in a home kitchen setting that may lack the equipment more commonly found in commercial and modern kitchens.

The session will also cover which foods can be sold through the cottage food law, and emphasize important details about those ingredients and goods not covered by the law that might cause confusion. As an example, Brison used pumpkin pie, about which she said Extension receives many calls this time of year.

“Some people make pumpkin pie and leave it out on the counter for a couple days, but just because you do or can, doesn’t mean you should,” Brison said during Extension’s Friday morning virtual Food Chat session on Nebraska Cottage Foods. “We know that the local grocery stores sit it out on the counter, but they have certain preservatives that make it shelf stable. From home, it’s considered a custard pie and has to be temperature controlled, so you can’t sell it under the cottage law.”

The same rule of thumb applies to products with cream cheese — if it requires refrigeration, it can’t be sold at events or even marketed as a pickup/delivery item under the new regulations.

She said there are many other crucial food prep distinctions that participants will learn during the course, such as how flavored and infused vinegars apply to the cottage law.

“You can sell flavored vinegars, but not infused vinegars,” she said. “With things like heating your vinegar and if you’re infusing it with barley or other ingredients, that leads to a whole other level of contamination.”

During the Food Chat session, Extension educators and representatives from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture fielded a variety of questions from Nebraskans related to legalities of the new cottage food law. Many participants were interested in knowing the rules for selling food in non-typical situations, such as a non-profit organization that owns a residence, or at farmers markets and community events like bake sales and fundraisers.

Though topics like this will also be addressed in the Cottage Food Law Training, general consensus between the experts was “better safe than sorry” on any food products being sold for personal or private business profit.

Institutions like schools and churches are a bit different, Brison said, and don’t typically need a cottage law license. The NDA does, however, “want to know what they’re doing” during public sales, she noted, which can be handled by filling out a simple form on the NDA website.

Once completing Extension’s accredited training course, which has been endorsed by the NDA and Douglas County Health Department, participants will be eligible to apply for the Nebraska Pure Food Act registration.

After registering, most Nebraskans are immediately eligible to begin selling homemade, shelf-stable goods, so long as anyone who is physically involved in the food production is on the registration list. Currently, the sole exception to this is Lancaster County, which also requires a home inspection and a license fee to complete registration.

Brison stressed that although Lancaster is the only county that requires additional measures for registration, many counties differ in local regulations that impact homemade food sales. County health department mandates vary, as well as what products can be sold specifically at local farmers markets, so it’s important to research all the factors and agencies involved.

As Brison noted these topics will be discussed during training, she hopes participants will end the session with a solid knowledge base on what they need to do to be successful under the new law.

“In times like this, (selling homemade goods) is a nice way to earn a little extra money on the side,” she said.

Extension’s Cottage Food Law Training instructor-led online session will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29. Registration can be completed at https://marketplace.unl.edu/extension/cottage-law.html.

To learn more about Nebraska’s cottage food law or complete registration for the Nebraska Pure Food Act, visit https://nda.nebraska.gov/fscp/foods/cottagefood.html.

Katy Moore can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.  

A Kansas native, Katy is the daughter of a farmer and a cowgirl. She has been a professional journalist since 2008 and is the Editor of Midwest Messenger. She can be reached at katy.moore@lee.net.