Florida Cottage Law

By Lilly Morales from The Starfish Cottage

My name is Lilly Morales and I’m the owner of The Starfish Cottage Cakes ® located in Pembroke Pines in Broward County. I started my cake & dessert business in 2014 and since then I have been featured in Martha Stewart Weddings, POPSUGAR, Modern Luxury Weddings and Cake Masters magazine to name a few. In the daytime, while I am not creating unique wedding cakes, I am a full-time paralegal. In June 2015, I along with Jennie Gibson from The Cakepop Shop in Jacksonville and 2 other former bakers created the Florida Cottage Food Law Bakers group on Facebook . We wanted to help other home bakers start their cottage food businesses - to help them navigate through the different steps and help them find answer to their questions.

What is the Cottage Food Law in Florida?

The Cottage Food Law in Florida is the law that allows the sale of homemade food products in Florida. It became effective in July 2011 and it has only been amended once in May 2017 with the help of a small group of bakers in the Tampa area. Some of the exciting changes that became effective as of July 1, 2017 was an increase in revenue from $15K per year to $50K! We were also allowed to take online orders via our websites and other platforms. However, shipping our products is still not allowed. This just goes to show that even a small group of people can make a huge difference!

What foods are we allowed to sell and which foods are prohibited?

The most current list can be found on the State of Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at https://www.fdacs.gov/Business-Services/Food-Establishments/Cottage-Foods. That page contains the most current Cottage Food Guidance Brochure, last updated in June 2017.

Do I need a license?

This is probably the most asked question that we get on our Facebook group and it’s the most misunderstood requirement. We are not required to have food permits or food handling licenses, but we are required to register as a business AKA business license or business tax receipt.

What should I do before I start?

1. Before you start your business, it’s important to find out from your city AND county whether Cottage Food Operations are allowed where you live. Even though the state has legalized cottage food businesses, they defer to local governments as to how to enforce the law. Some local governments have banned them outright, others require a permit or a city + county tax receipt.

2. Register your business with SunBiz.

3. Obtain a free Tax ID from the IRS.

4. Obtain a business tax receipt from your city and or county.

What else is required?

The Florida Cottage Food Law primarily addresses the labeling requirements, and prohibited foods and how you sell and delivery your product to the customers. They don’t require insurance, formal training, certifications, etc.

Should I have insurance or get a ServSafe certificate if it’s not required?

Yes you should obtain both. A cottage food business is no different than any other service oriented business. In fact, we have higher liabilities than other non-food businesses because our products are perishable and have a potential to make people sick.

FLIP (Food Liability Insurance Program) offers $2 Million coverage for $299 a year. That is less than $6 a week to be insured from liability for your business.

ServSafe is a national renowned company that teaches you restaurant level food safety guidelines and proper food handling instruction. The cost is less than $150 for the manager-level test and it is good for 5 years.

Do I need a contract, waivers or other legal documents?

To protect your business, always hire an attorney to draft a basic contract and general documents for your business. Like any other profession, not all attorneys are the best fit for you. First, hire an attorney who is licensed to practice in the State of Florida. You can search The Florida Bar’s website to check an attorney’s status or if you’d like to obtain a referral for one in your area, you can use their Lawyer Referral Service. Attorneys that are admitted to practice in Florida know our laws and can draft documents that are specific to our state, as they can vary from other jurisdictions. Second, choose a contract attorney or someone who is familiar in the food/restaurant/service industry.

There is a lot of business and legal advice in many cake groups. We’re lucky to have so much information available through online communities! My biggest suggestion is to use your own judgment and common sense before taking advice from people. People have great intentions when they try to help someone who is in a difficult situation, but sometimes the advice given may not protect you under the eyes of the law. One of the best examples is the use of waivers. These waivers that supposedly release the baker from any liability from the use of non edible items, alcohol or other “non-toxic” products. Please be certain to place common sense and safety above any potential profits. Misuse of waivers are as good as monopoly money :) More importantly, it’s not worth jeopardizing your business over an order.

Do you have any other advice for new bakers?

I could go on forever, but here are a few tips for a successful business:

● Learn everything you can about this industry, and never stop learning.

● Learn your recipes well so that you can educate your clients about ingredients and so that you can experiment to create new ones with simple modifications.

● Learn your costs, including how much you pay yourself plus your profit.

● Learn the best practices for bakeries. Whether you hope to open a brick and mortar shop one day, or continue working from home, you want to make sure that you’re on par with the standards of the industry.

● Learn the Florida Cottage Food Law as well as other food regulations.

● Learn what it takes to be successful and profitable from others that are actually successful and profitable.

● Before you take shortcuts in business, learn the proper way to do things right.

● Support other bakers, especially local ones. Having a reliable network of bakers is crucial to your success and well-being. These friendships can help you in a bind to take on an order for a special client, to bounce off ideas, or even to borrow a special mold that is out of stock online!

● Support your cake tool innovator community. As convenient as it is to purchase cheap molds or tools from Amazon, Etsy, Wish or AliExpress, chances are that you’re purchasing fake and illegal knockoffs. Innovators in our industry like Sidney Galpern of SimiCakes and companies like FatDaddios work really hard to create amazing tools, and they spend money and time developing these products for us, only to be copied and made using inferior materials. Sometimes they don’t work right and you think the product isn’t good, but the fact may be that it’s an inferior knockoff. Not only do you waste money and time, but you also hurt a fellow small business. Support your local cake supply stores that are authorized resellers of professional cake tools and supplies. Some amazing examples in Florida are Cake & Craft (Fondant Source), The Sweet Chalet Shoppe and Mia’s Cake House.

How can I get more information or ask more questions?

Send a request to join the Florida Cottage Food Law Bakers group on Facebook! Answer the 3 membership questions and that’s it! It’s a safe community for home based bakers, and we do not allow commissary bakers or retail shop owners, or members from other states. This helps us keep our content relevant for us.

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