Do I need a license to sell homemade food in Washington State?

Updated: May 17, 2024

Published: May 17, 2024

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If you want to start a business from your home in Washington, one of the best ways is to sell homemade food. However, it can be hard to figure out exactly how to begin and how to make sense of the laws and requirements around it. In this article, we’ll look at everything you need to start a home-based food business in the state of Washington.

What is the cottage food law in Washington state?

A home-based food business is also known as a “cottage food” business, and it’s defined as a food business that’s primarily run from the kitchen in your home. Cottage food laws are unique to every state, but fortunately, there’s a lot of information about it from the Washington State Department of Agriculture. To sell your food to customers, you can use an ecommerce tool like FormPay that’s designed for home-based food businesses. It’ll let you track how much you sell because you can only sell up to $35,000 of food per year.

What can you sell at a home-based food business in Washington?

According to the Washington State Department of Agriculture, you can sell “low-risk” foods in a cottage food business, and up to 50 products.

Low-risk foods you’re allowed to sell include:

  • Baked goods and fried products cooked in an oven, on a stove top, or in or on an electric device designed for cooking food including:
  • Loaf breads, rolls, biscuits, quick breads, and muffins;
  • Cakes including celebration cakes such as birthday, anniversary, and wedding cakes;
  • Pastries and scones;
  • Cookies and bars;
  • Crackers;
  • Cereals, trail mixes and granola;
  • Pies, except that custard style pies, pies with fresh fruit that is unbaked or pies that require refrigeration after baking are not approved;
  • Nuts and nut mixes;
  • Snack mixes; and
  • Donuts, tortillas, pizzelles, krumkake, and similar products.
  • Non potentially hazardous candies cooked on a stove top or in a microwave, provided the operator maintains proper temperature control through the use of a candy thermometer. Such products include:
  • Molded candies and chocolates;
  • Products dipped or coated with candy or chocolate coatings;
  • Fudge or fudge-like candies;
  • Caramels;
  • Nut brittles; and
  • Taffy and marshmallow-like candies.
  • Standardized jams, jellies, preserves and fruit butters as identified under 21 C.F.R. 150.
  • Fresh picked or harvested fruits from noncommercial sources are allowed to be used.
  • Fresh fruits can be frozen in a home style freezer and used at a later time by the cottage food operation.
  • All recipes must have a cook step included such as a hot fill or hot water bath. No freezer or refrigerator style products are allowed.
  • All jams, jellies, preserves and fruit butters must be sealed in containers that are sterilized prior to filling.
  • Wax paraffin is not allowed to be used for sealing.
  • Recombining and packaging of dry herbs, seasoning and mixtures that are obtained from approved sources (e.g., dry bean soup mixes, dry teas and coffees, spice seasonings, etc.).
  • Vinegars that are obtained from approved sources and are rebottled in the cottage food operation. Flavors such as fruits and herbs may be added to the vinegars.

Meanwhile, foods you’re not allowed to sell include: 

  • Fresh or dried meat or meat products including jerky;
  • Fresh or dried poultry or poultry products;
  • Canned fruits, vegetables, vegetable butters, salsas, etc.;
  • Fish or shellfish products;
  • Products made with meat, poultry, or fish products;
  • Canned pickled products such as corn relish, pickles, sauerkraut;
  • Raw seed sprouts;
  • Bakery goods which require any type of refrigeration such as cream, custard or meringue pies and cakes or pastries with cream or cream cheese fillings, fresh fruit fillings or garnishes, glazes or frostings with low sugar content, cream, or uncooked eggs;
  • Milk and dairy products including hard, soft and cottage cheeses and yogurt;
  • Cut fresh fruits or vegetables;
  • Food products made from cut fresh fruits or vegetables;
  • Garlic in oil mixtures;
  • Juices made from fresh fruits or vegetables;
  • Ice or ice products;
  • Barbeque sauces, ketchups, or mustards;
  • Focaccia-style breads with vegetables or cheeses;
  • Beverages.

If you want to sell foods that aren’t permitted, you might still have a chance if you apply for a WSDA Food Processor's Licence

Do I need a license to sell food from my home in Washington state?

Yes, you do need a permit—you can apply for one with the Washington State Department of Agriculture with the Application for Cottage Food Operation Permit form along with the fees as detailed in the instructions. Your Cottage Food permit is valid for two years. You can only sell up to $35,000 of food per year. 

How to open a home-based food business in Washington

To open a home-based food business, you just have to follow these steps to get your business up and running. 

Here are the steps:

  1. Determine what foods you want to sell. You’ll be required to label the food you’re selling, including its ingredients listed from most to least. If your ingredients have ingredients, you have to list them too. You also have to list the net weight or net volume of your food, as well as any allergens, and the statement “MADE IN A HOME KITCHEN THAT HAS NOT BEEN SUBJECT TO STANDARD INSPECTION CRITERIA”. You can only sell 50 products.
  2. Register your business with the Washington State Department of Agriculture. You’ll have to submit an application, as well as permit fees that add up to $355. 
  3. Take a food safety course for a Food Worker Card and a Business Licence. You’ll also need a Food Worker Card and a signed copy of yours for every person named on your application. You can apply for a business licence with the Department of Revenue
  4. Make sure your home is sanitary according to the health guidelines. To make sure everything is safe for yourself and your customers, as well as to prepare for any health inspections, it’s a good idea to keep everything safe and sanitary. For example, it’s a good idea to stay on top of water quality, pest control, and the cleanliness of your equipment. 
  5. Set up an online store, or sell in-person at food fairs and farmers’ markets. After everything is ready, you’re finally set to start selling your food. You can either sell in-person at events like food fairs and farmers’ markets, or online using an ecommerce service like FormPay that’s designed for cottage food businesses.
  6. Promote your business. The only thing left to do is to promote your business. You can start by showing your friends and family, then reach more people with social media. Check out this article for more tips on how to promote your business. 

How to sell homemade food online in Washington

Most people choose to sell their food online instead, directly from their kitchen to the customer. You can use an e-commerce tool like FormPay to help you set up transactions quickly and easily. Many independent food businesses are already using FormPay to increase their sales and streamline their sales process, including G Sweets and Uncle Tim’s Delicacies

How to sell homemade food at farmers’ markets and food fairs in Washington

If you have a cottage food permit, the food you make can be sold at farmers’ markets and food fairs too as "ready-to-eat" foods. Once you have your Cottage Food Permit, you can make your food and sell it from wherever you like.

How to sell homemade baked goods in Washington

As detailed above, most baked goods are fine to sell as long as you have a Cottage Food Permit, and you can cook them right in the oven you usually use for cooking food. One of the examples of independent food businesses using FormPay is G Sweets, which primarily sells baked goods. 

Summary

Fortunately, Washington is one of the easiest states to sell homemade food in, with the requirements and instructions being laid out clearly by the government. As long as you’re clear about what you’re selling and make sure your kitchen is ready for it, you can get a Cottage Food PermitFood Worker Card, and business license, and start right away by selling either in-person or online with a cottage foods e-commerce tool like FormPay.  

Resources

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