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Cottage law allows cooks to bypass certified kitchen requirement for some foods

Stephanie Parker was in a fix on her wedding day.

The cake she ordered was a sad mess: It leaned, and its fondant, which should have been smooth, was rippled.

Just hours before the ceremony, Parker dashed to Publix to get a replacement.

The experience made Parker, a stay-at-home mom from Riverview, wonder if she could do better. So she started designing cakes for friends and relatives. Someone suggested she make a business out of it.

One problem: Florida law at the time didn't allow home food businesses.

So Parker, 28, put her idea on hold — until this summer, when a new law quietly went into effect. Referred to as the "Cottage Law," it allows home cooks to prepare and sell some foods without a license or commercial kitchen.

"Many other states already have this law in place," said Lynn Schultz, business development coordinator for Hillsborough County's Small Business Information Center. "This is an opportunity in today's economy to make it easier for someone to start a business."

Parker already has hers, called For Heaven's Cake.

"I'd been watching the law," she said. "Pretty much the second it was final I was on board."

Schultz said she's seeing more people like Parker who are eager to break into the food business.

Interest is so high that the Small Business Information Center, located in Tampa, has had to add more monthly workshops focused on getting into the food industry. There's even a Facebook group about the issue.

There are limits to the law, including how much money cottage law operations can bring in annually ($15,000) and what they can produce. And while most baked goods, jams and candies are allowed under the law, some things like salsa and barbecue sauces are not.

Cooks also must use labels to tell buyers that the product was not prepared in a certified kitchen. The state has the authority to investigate any cottage food operation that gets a complaint.

"It does have its drawbacks, but its benefits are kind of outweighing those right now," said Parker, whose aim is to bring in a little extra money for her family.

Others, like 21-year-old Donea Swafford, see the cottage law as a gateway into a culinary career.

Swafford, who grew up in Hernando County but now lives in Tampa, makes homemade whoopie pies and marshmallows. Her grandfather owned a bakery, and her mom is a trained chef. Swafford dreams of having a storefront one day, but doesn't have the money for that or a commercial kitchen. Because of the cottage law, however, she can start selling her food. She plans to start next weekend at the Ybor City Saturday Market.

"I'm really excited about this opportunity," Swafford said. "I'm really hoping that this turns into something bigger."

.IF YOU GO

Food Industry Workshop

Sponsored by the Hillsborough County Small Business Information Center.

When: 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sept. 13 (part 1) and Sept. 20 (part 2).

Where: 7402 N 56th St., Building 400, Suite 425, Tampa.

Cost: Free.

More information: sbic.hillsboroughcounty.org.

Source: Small Business Information Center

New cottage law

You can

• Make and sell breads, cakes, cookies, candy, jelly, jam, vinegar, popcorn, cereals, trail mix, granola, pasta, dried fruits, dry herbs and seasonings.

• Sell your product directly to the customer from your home or farmers markets.

You can't …

• Make/sell fresh or dried meat, fish, canned fruits, vegetables or pickled products, baked goods that require refrigeration, dairy products, barbecue sauces, salsa or pet treats.

• Have annual gross sales of more than $15,000.

• Sell to a store/restaurant, over the Internet or take mail orders.

You must …

• Put a label on the product indicating it was produced at an operation not subject to Florida's food safety regulations.

• List the ingredients and follow other federal labeling requirements.

More information: www.freshfromflorida.com/fs/CottageFoodAdvisory.pdf.

Source: Florida Department of Agriculture

Cottage law allows cooks to bypass certified kitchen requirement for some foods 09/10/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 10, 2011 9:13pm]
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