From January to September 2020 alone, about 9.6 million people in the United States lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic according to the Pew Research Center. That is a huge percentage of the population. In comparison, the European Union’s (EU) population is larger by over 100 million people but only 2.6 million of them lost their jobs in the same period. CNBC reported that according to the National Restaurant Association, the number of jobs lost in the U.S. restaurant industry in 2020 was 2.5 million, almost reaching the level of all jobs lost in the EU.
While many restaurants closed shop, establishments that sell cooked food for delivery to homes flourished. The U.S. cooked food delivery market has grown to more than twice its size during the pandemic according to a McKinsey report. Food services have partnered with apps for food ordering and delivery services, the largest of which is DoorDash followed by UberEats, Postmates, and Grubhub.
This gave rise to the creation of “dark kitchens” which only provide food for delivery with no in-house dining. These are cheaper to set up and maintain, with no expenses for dine-in facilities and restaurant staff salaries. The commission for the ordering and delivery app partner ranges from 15 percent to 30 percent of the price of each order. This can be built into meal prices and is paid only whenever there is an order.
Dark kitchens need not be large establishments. Even home cooks can set up small home-based businesses selling their specialties. This is a good income-generating opportunity for those who have lost their jobs and have excellent cooking skills. The selling of processed raw meat from livestock raised at home is also possible. There are limits, however, on where these are allowed.
Laws for Selling Food from Home
As of 2021, all states of the U.S. allow the selling of homemade shelf-stable food that does not require temperature control and are not potentially hazardous to consumers. This is the cottage food program. Permitted food includes dried herbs, granola, jams and jellies, candies, and baked bread and cookies.
Every state has its own specifications, though. The most basic cottage food program does not allow the selling of cooked food that includes meat. It also only allows direct sales from the producer to the buyer, usually by direct delivery of the producer, home pickup by the buyer, farmers markets, food bazaars, roadside stands, or other special events. Only 38 states have a cottage food program that allows online selling of homemade food with third-party delivery within the state. Only 21 states have a cottage food program that allows the selling of homemade food in retail stores and groceries. While 31 states have no sales caps, others limit annual sales with California’s cottage food program having a cap of $75,000.
The selling of lemonade is not allowed in most cottage food programs because it needs refrigeration. Four states, however, prohibited their counties and cities from banning or requiring permits for lemonade stands of children.
Five states have expanded their cottage food programs to allow the selling of refrigerated, pickled, or canned goods without the need for inspection, licensing, or permits. These states are Wyoming, North Dakota, Utah, Montana, and Oklahoma. In Wyoming, the selling of eggs is allowed provided it is directly from the producer to the consumer. In Montana, small dairy establishments with a maximum of ten lactating sheep or goats, or five lactating cows, are allowed to sell raw milk within the state.
Selling Meat from Home
Home cooks can fire up their Lynx BBQ grill and sell grilled meat and poultry specialties, among other meat and poultry dishes, in California, Utah, and Wyoming. The California Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operation (MEHKO), however, requires a county to adopt the act before home-based entrepreneurs can apply for permits. So far, the counties that have opted in are Riverside, Solano, Santa Barbara, San Mateo, Imperial, Alameda, and Berkeley. California’s MEHKO has an annual income cap of $150,000. In contrast, Utah’s Microenterprise Home Kitchen Act (MEHKA) automatically applies throughout the state.
A limited number of states allow the selling of raw meat from home. In Montana, poultries are allowed to process a maximum of 1,000 birds a year. In Colorado, farmers and ranchers are allowed to sell packaged meat provided it is from livestock that they raised and butchered. In Nebraska, customers can purchase a share of livestock in advance and get the meat once the animal is butchered.
Many of these food laws were updated only in 2021. This is a timely response to the need of the times. It will enable more people to eke out a living from home.