Modern Homemakers: How Cottage Food Laws Open a New World for Small Businesses
Bess Fisher, University of Mississippi School of Law, Class of 2022
Social media, namely Instagram, has changed the name of the game for marketing and advertising. Average, everyday people now have the ability to gain thousands of followers, and with that platform can advertise their small businesses and gather opportunities to make money from brands. As a result, the new phenomenon of “cottage food laws” was born at the intersection of social media and traditional domesticity. These laws allow home bakers to sell their products without a license from their respectivestate’s health department . 
The southern region of the United States (“the South”) has long been known for having homecooked food as an integral part of its social culture. Southern Living, the decades old southern cooking and lifestyle magazine, has been inspiring recipes for popular bake sale and church function recipes for years. With the advent of Instagram, the modern version of the age-old “bake sale” is entrepreneurs advertising and selling their homemade goods over the Internet. Interestingly enough, many states have adopted laws to govern this area so that these small businesses do not have to expend the energy and resources required to be certified by their respective state’s health department .
Cottage food laws, enacted by most states, enable small culinary operations to function out of residential kitchens . Per Mississippi’s Cottage Food Law, any food products must be created in a “private home.” Products must have a label affixed to them with certain restrictions, like ingredients, net weight, and the address of the seller .One benefit of the ability to operate under a cottage food law is that there is no requirement for a kitchen examination or to report to the state health department.  In Mississippi, the law also addresses income; in effect, a cottage food operation must remain a modest business with an income cap of $35,000 per year.
The Mississippi Cottage Food Law addresses typical vendors as being sellers of items ranging from pickled products, canned jellies and jams, and a variety of homemade cakes, cookies, and breads. There are a multitude of local examples of these small operations. “House Granola,” based out of Oxford, Mississippi, is a small business selling two different types of homemade granola that operates under the Mississippi Cottage Food Law. “All Dunn Baking,” a custom iced sugar cookie and baking business based out of Greenwood, Mississippi, is another example of a business operating under Mississippi’s Cottage Food Law. Small businesses like these are becoming more common due to the ease the cottage food laws provide to those remaining in compliance with health code regulations .
Other states have similar laws . In some ways, Mississippi’s law is seemingly more progressive than neighboring states. For example, the Alabama Cottage Food Law prohibits baked goods from being sold over the Internet.Alternatively, unlike Mississippi and many other states, Alabama and Tennessee place a ceiling on the income allowed from sales for cottage food operations.
In essence, these laws have transformed the ability of the average person to monetize their domestic skills as a small business. These laws remove the barriers that the food service industry previously held, especially the financial barriers presented by requirements such as having an industrial kitchen, food licenses and certifications, and a storefront . Social media coupled with cottage food laws creates an entirely different kind of e-commerce, enabling local artisans to safely and legally prepare and sell their homemade goods in a residential kitchen.
 In her spare time, Bess Fisher, a third-year law student at the University of Mississippi School of Law, runs a baking and lifestyle blog, Bessie Crocker (@bessiecrocker_ on Instagram), which served as the inspiration for this article.
 Alba J. Collart, Cottage Food Laws in Mississippi: Key Guidelines and Policy Implications, Mississippi State University Extension, http://extension.msstate.edu/sites/default/files/publications/publications/P3327_web.pdf.
 See ALLI CONDRA, HARVARD FOOD LAW & POLICY CLINIC, COTTAGE FOOD LAWS IN THE UNITED STATES 5 (2013), http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/foodpolicyinitiative/files/2013/08/FINAL_Cottage-Food-Laws-Report_2013.pdf. But see Collart, supra note 2. A 2013 Harvard study found that 41 states had enacted cottage food laws. Almost a decade later, however, New Jersey is the only state that has yet to enact a cottage food law.
 Miss. Code Ann. § 75-29-951(1)(a). Private home is defined as “the place where you live, whether you own the home or are renting. So a house, an apartment, condominium, or a rental home could be a private home.” Mississippi Department of Health, Cottage Food Operation: Frequently Asked Questions, https://msdh.ms.gov/msdhsite/_static/resources/5375.pdf.
 Miss. Code Ann. § 75-29-951(3)(a).
 See generally Miss. Code Ann. § 75-29-951 et seq.
 Miss. Code Ann. § 75-29-951(1)(a).
 Bonnie Coblentz, Two MS Cottage Foot Law Updates Aid Entrepreneurs, The Webster Progrress-Times (Sept. 11, 2020, 10:38 AM), https://www.redhillsmsnews.com/news/two-ms-cottage-food-law-updates-aid-entrepreneurs#sthash.JdVJ9h9a.dpbs. “Cottage food products are non-potentially hazardous foods that are made in the kitchen of a private home. In 2013, the Mississippi Legislature passed laws to define what foods can be made and sold from home kitchens, and under what circumstances these activities can be done.” Id.
 All Dunn Baking, @alldunnbaking, https://www.instagram.com/alldunnbaking/. Owner and operator, Anne Claire Dunn predominately sells her cookies via Instagram and Facebook. Many buyers place orders with her for custom decorated cookies
 See Condra, supra note 4. New Jersey is the only state without a cottage food law. However, there is wide variety in the cottage food laws passed by the other 49 states, especially in regard to the dollar amount of sales allowed. Compare Ala. Code 22-20-5.1 and Miss. Code Ann. 75-29-951 (no limit on the dollar amount of sales in Alabama vs. $35,000 per year limit in Mississippi).
 Ala. Code § 22-20-5.1.
 Tenn. Code Ann. § 53-1-208.
 See state laws, supra notes 7, 12, and 13. See Condra, supra note 4 at 4. See also Michael S. Kaufman et al., Restaurant Revolution: How the Industry is Fighting to Stay Alive, HBS Working Knowledge (July 16, 2020), https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/restaurant-revolution-how-the-industry-is-fighting-to-stay-alive (discussing financial barriers for restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic).
MEET THE AUTHOR
Bess Fisher is from Mobile, Alabama, and is a member of the University of Mississippi School of Law Class of 2022. Bess graduated from the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College at the University of Mississippi in 2013. Before law school, she worked as an Admissions Counselor in the University of Mississippi Office of Admissions, where she recruited students from Lafayette County in Mississippi as well as fifteen states in the western part of the United States. Currently, Bess serves as the Chair of the Negotiation Board at the University of Mississippi School of Law. Through this role, Bess recently competed in and won The Closer, the nation’s premier transactional law negotiation competition. After graduation, Bess will sit for the Mississippi Bar and begin working as an associate at Mitchell, McNutt & Sams in the Oxford office.