Do I need a license to sell homemade food in Ontario?
Updated: Aug 9, 2023
Published: Aug 9, 2023
Table of Contents
- What is a Home-based Food Business in Ontario?
- Ontario Home-based Food Business Legal Requirements
- Regulations for Food Premises
- Requirements for Safe Food Handling
- Ontario's Home-Based Food Business Licensing Requirements
- Ontario's Home-Based Food Business Insurance Requirements
- Selling Food Online
- Selling at Farmers' Markets and Food Fairs
You’re starting an exciting food venture and you can't share your culinary creations with others and start making money. But, as the owner of a home-based food business, not only are you accountable for the safety and quality of your food, you’re also responsible for adhering to certain laws and regulations. We know all of this can get overwhelming and confusing on top of getting a business started, so in this article, we’ll walk through all you need to know — from food handling regulations to business licenses and liability insurance — to help you safely get started as a home-based food business in Ontario.
What is a Home-based Food Business in Ontario?
What exactly does “home-based” mean anyway? Also known as “cottage food” business, any food-related business run out of a residential property is considered a home-based food business. This includes preparing a full meal to sell in addition to selling homemade food items like baked goods, jams, and candies. You can sell the food at food fairs, farmers' markets, and online.
Ontario Home-based Food Business Legal Requirements
In Ontario, the government maintains strict regulations for home-based food businesses to guarantee the safe production and consumption of food products, as outlined in the Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act. The specific requirements that your business must adhere to can depend on the type of food you plan to sell. For instance, food items that necessitate temperature regulation will demand stringent temperature control standards, and businesses dealing in raw meats, such as sushi, will need to meet certain specific standards. When initiating your business, you are required to reach out to your local public health unit. Their staff will guide you on the necessary food safety precautions that you need to implement based on the type of food you're preparing.
Regulations for Food Premises
Every food business in Ontario, including home-based ones, must adhere to the province's Food Premises Regulation. This legal framework outlines the minimum food safety standards, covering aspects like sanitation, hygiene, and safe food handling.
Home-based food business owners are responsible for maintaining the cleanliness of their kitchen and utensils, adhering to appropriate food storage methods, and managing waste effectively. The regulation also covers infrastructure requirements like adequate ventilation and lighting, and proper facilities for washing hands and utensils. In essence, it's the owner's duty to thoroughly understand and comply with these regulations to ensure public health safety.
Home kitchens will need to be inspected by public health inspectors to verify they meet safety and sanitation requirements. Some jurisdictions might allow low-risk food production (like baked goods, jams, or jellies) in a home kitchen, while others may require a separate commercial-grade kitchen for any food production. For information about the inspection process and whether your home kitchen fits the requirements for the type of food you plan to sell, contact your local public health authority.
For a detailed understanding of the Food Premises Regulation and its compliance, it is advisable to consult the Food Premises Reference Document provided by the Ministry of Health. This document provides an exhaustive list of public health requirements and best practices to guide you.
For additional resources to aid with food labeling, allergen declaration, and safety protocols for food, consider reviewing the Reference Document for Safe Food Donation and Food Donation Supplemental Materials. These documents provide knowledge on the recent changes in regulations and suggested best practices.
Requirements for Safe Food Handling
One of the most critical aspects of food safety is the proper handling of food.
According to the Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act, the Ontario's Food Premises Regulations (section 32) mandates that all food businesses employ personnel who possess a Food Handler Certification.
Acquiring the Food Handler Certification necessitates the completion of a certified Food Handler Certification course approved by the Province of Ontario.
It is compulsory for food business operators to have at least one staff member on-site, who is Food Handler Certified, during all operational hours.
For additional information about food safety in Ontario, refer to the food safety section on the website of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
Amendments to the Food Premises Regulation, effective from January 1, 2020, have simplified the process for individuals and businesses to sell home-made, low-risk foods.
What Constitutes Low-Risk Foods?
Low-risk foods, usually deemed non-hazardous, don't require regulated time and temperature control. Here are some examples of such foods:
- The majority of breads and buns, excluding those with meat or cream filling;
- Most types of baked goods that don't contain custard;
- Confectionaries like chocolate, hard candies, and brittle;
- Sweets such as fudge and toffees;
- Coffee beans and tea leaves;
- Mixes and standalone items like granola, trail mix, nuts, and seeds;
- Baked items like cakes (with non-perishable icing), brownies, muffins, and cookies.
Exemptions from specific regulations are provided to home-based food businesses that exclusively prepare low-risk foods. These exemptions may include:
- The provision of dedicated handwashing stations on the premises;
- Adherence to commercial dishwashing standards; and
- Obtaining a food handling training certificate.
Ontario's Home-Based Food Business Insurance Requirements
Getting insurance coverage is a sure way to protect yourself and your business from liability in the event of mishaps or unforeseen circumstances. For example, it can help you cover expenses related to property loss, disease, or injury from your food products or business operations.
In Ontario, you have various insurance options open to you including property insurance and liability insurance. Property insurance may cover costs related to property and equipment damage. Whereas liability insurance can help in covering costs associated with claims made against your company for harm or damage brought on by your products.
Insurance is essential because certain licenses mentioned earlier may require specific liability insurance coverage before you get approved for those licenses.
Selling Food Online
The easiest way to get your food out in the world and start making money is by selling your products online, because you don’t need additional permits or licenses. To sell online, you need at least an order form to collect order information and payments. We recommend FormPay, the simplest ecommerce tool built for home-based food businesses that’s quick to set up and easy to use.
Ontario food sellers like Uncle Tim’s Delicacies and G Sweets have been able to save time on admin and increase their sales with FormPay, so they can focus on growing and creating the best possible food products for their customers.
Selling at Farmers' Markets and Food Fairs
In addition to online sales, you can also sell at farmers’ markets and food fairs, but there are additional rules you need to take into account.
For instance, you might be required to obtain a Temporary Food Establishment Permit that depends on the health unit where you run your business. The permit is for ensuring that you adhere to proper hygiene and sanitation practices, as well as the proper handling and storage of food products while you’re onsite at the markets and fairs.The process to obtain this permit varies by local public health unit. You will need to contact the public health unit in your municipality for specific information on how to obtain this permit.
Further, event organizers may ask you to purchase additional insurance to participate in these events.
Starting a home-based food business in Ontario means that there are laws and regulations you need to comply with so that you can produce and sell your products safely to your customers. It may seem like a lot at first, but once you figure it out, you’re set! Here are some key points to keep in mind:
- Your business must meet the standards outlined in the Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act and Food Premises Regulation. These cover food safety, sanitation, hygiene, and infrastructure requirements.
- You need to reach out to your local public health unit when initiating your business for guidance on necessary food safety precautions based on the type of food you're preparing.
- Home kitchens may be subject to inspections by public health inspectors to ensure they meet safety and sanitation requirements.
- Food handling personnel must possess a Food Handler Certification, requiring completion of a certified course approved by Ontario.
- Some low-risk food businesses may be exempted from specific regulations, such as dedicated handwashing stations, commercial dishwashing standards, and obtaining a food handling training certificate.
- It's recommended to obtain insurance coverage to protect your business from potential liabilities.
- Selling your products online with tools like FormPay may not require additional permits or licenses. However, selling at farmers' markets and food fairs may require a Temporary Food Establishment Permit and additional insurance.
- Always consult the relevant documents provided by the Ministry of Health and your local public health unit for comprehensive understanding of the requirements.