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Cottage Food Facts

On June 25, 2012 new Alaska Food Code regulations were adopted to allow the sale of non-potentially hazardous foods directly to the consumer without a permit if certain conditions are met.

What Does a Producer Need to Do to Fall Under this Exemption?

  • Keep and provide detailed knowledge about the ingredients of the food product and how it was processed, prepared, and packaged.
  • Have the food product recipe or formulation available in case there is ever a concern about the safety of the product. For pickled or dried product the producer needs to have information available about the pH or water activity.
  • Process, prepare, package, and sell the product only in Alaska
  • Sell directly to the consumer by an individual who knows what ingredients were used to make the product and how the food was prepared and packaged. This individual must be able to answer consumers' questions about the product, including whether allergens are present in the food product.
  • Do not distribute or sell the product to stores, restaurants, by mail order, or on consignment.
  • Keep total gross receipts of sales of food items to show gross sales do not exceed $25,000 within a calendar year.
  • If the food is not prepared in a permitted, approved, or inspected kitchen, inform the consumer by a card, placard, sign, or label placed in a conspicuous area that states the following: "These products are not subject to state inspection."
  • Label packaged food with either: an Alaska Business License number or the name, physical address, and telephone number of the individual who prepared the food. This allows DEC to trace the product back to the producer if there is a problem or complaint.

What is Non-Potentially Hazardous Food?

These are foods that do not support the growth of dangerous bacteria because of their water activity values, pH values or a combination of the two. A good method to determine whether a product is non-potentially hazardous is to note whether it requires refrigeration to keep it safe or preserve it. If it does not require refrigeration, it is most likely non-potentially hazardous.

If a producer is unsure about the safety of their product or whether it requires refrigeration for safety, lab testing may be required. Be sure to contact the local Cooperative Extension Office or DEC for more information.

What Are pH and Water Activity?

The pH is a scientific measure of how “acidic” or “basic” a substance is. Scientists measure pH on a scale of 0 to 14. A lower value on the pH scale indicates the substance is more acidic whereas a higher value indicates the substance is more basic. Foods like water and milk are considered “neutral” with a pH value of about 7.0. Lemonade and vinegar are "acidic" with a pH between 2 and 4. Materials like laundry detergent and ammonia are “basic” with pH values of 11-12. Food products at a pH of 4.6 or lower will control the growth of dangerous bacteria which can cause Botulism.

Water activity is measured by how tightly bound the water is in the food product. Water activity is measured on a scale from 0 (bone dry) to 1.0 (pure water). Most food products have a water activity in the range of 0.2 for very dry foods to 0.99 for moist, fresh foods. Water activity is not the same thing as moisture content, however. While moist foods are likely to have greater water activity than dry foods, this is not always true. Water activity is important because it can be used to predict the growth of harmful bacteria, yeasts and molds. Food products with low water activity will last longer on the shelf because they do not provide a good environment for pathogens to grow.

Some foods may not require refrigeration because they have a combination of low water activity and an acidic pH. Testing product for water activity and pH allows producers to decide whether their product requires refrigeration or not.

How Do I Get My Products Tested?

The Alaska State Environmental Health Laboratory can test your food products for pH and water activity for a small fee. The cost for pH testing is $20 per sample, and the cost for water activity testing is $10 per sample.

Sending Samples to the Lab

  1. Download a Sample Submission Form from the laboratory website. Fill it out with your personal contact information, including an email address and information about the product.
  2. Carefully package and seal your product to prevent drying or leaking in shipping. The laboratory needs 8 ounces of product to test for both pH and water activity.
  3. Place a form of payment, the completed Sample Submission Form, and the sample in a package and ship to:

    Alaska State Environmental Health Laboratory
    5251 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue
    Anchorage, AK 99507-1293

Call (907)375-8231, or email to let them know you have shipped your package. You can expect results via email 5-10 business days after the package is received by the laboratory. If you need quicker results, let the lab know and they will expedite as quickly as they can!

What Foods Are Exempt?

There are many foods that fall under this exemption, including:

Baked Goods
Product Kept on File
Breads (or similar baked goods) Recipe/process
Cakes (including celebration cakes) Recipe/process
Sweet breads and muffins that contain fruits or vegetables (e.g. pumpkin or zucchini bread) Recipe/process
Cooked fruit pies Recipe/process
Cookies Recipe/process
Baked goods that contain alcohol (e.g. rum cake) Recipe/process
Crackers Recipe/process
Bottled/Jarred Items
Product Kept on File
Jams and jellies in glass jars that can be stored at room temperature Recipe/process
Vinegars (including flavored vinegars) Recipe/process
Mustards pH test
Extracts - including vanilla and lemon extract Recipe/process
Pickles pH test
BBQ Sauces pH test
Salsas pH test
Relishes pH test
Ketchup pH test
Bottled carbonated beverages Recipe/process
Juices (berry and rhubarb) pH test
Product Kept on File
Fudge Recipe/process
Truffles Recipe/process
Brittles Recipe/process
Chocolate covered pretzels, marshmallows, graham crackers, or fruit Recipe/process
Fermented Products
Product Kept on File
Kombucha pH test or recipe/process
Fermented fruit and vegetable products (e.g. sauerkraut and kimchee) pH test
Other Products
Product Kept on File
Baked product mixes (e.g. pancake, cake, or cookie mix) Recipe/process
Dried soup or dip mixes Recipe/process
Dehydrated vegetables or fruit Recipe/process
Popcorn, popcorn balls Recipe/process
Dry herbs and dry herb mixtures Recipe/process
Dried pasta made with eggs Water activity test
Nuts: coated or uncoated Recipe/process
Roasted coffee and dried tea Recipe/process
Waffle Cones Recipe/process
Tortillas Recipe/process
Flatbreads (including elephant ears) Recipe/process
Fruit leathers Recipe/process

What Foods Are not Exempt?

Potentially hazardous foods that require time and/or temperature control for safety are not allowed to be produced under this exemption. Examples of foods that are not allowed include:

  • Meat and meat products including fresh and dried meats (jerky)
  • Fish and fish products (e.g. smoke salmon, canned salmon, etc.)
  • Raw seed sprouts
  • Garlic in oil mixtures
  • Baked products that require refrigeration (e.g. cheesecake, custards, lemon meringue)
  • Cheeses
  • Dairy products (including ice cream)
  • Non-acidic canned foods (i.e. canned vegetables that are not pickled or fermented)
  • Pesto
  • Fresh vegetable juices
  • Food products made with cooked vegetable products that are not acidified
  • Bottled Water

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Are Foods Required to Be Tested?

The regulation requires that documentation demonstrating product safety be provided upon request. You must demonstrate that either pH, water activity, or both are sufficient to prevent dangerous bacteria from growing.

What Kind of Testing Do I Need to Do?

For products like salsas, pickled vegetables and fermented foods a pH test result of 4.6 or below is needed. For products like dehydrated foods a water activity test result of 0.88 or below is required.

I Want to Sell Baked Goods. Do I Need to Get a Water Activity or pH Test?

If your baked goods are non-potentially hazardous (i.e. no cream cheese frosting, custards, meringues, etc.) then the only documentation that you will need to provide is recipe formulation.

Where Can I Get My Product Tested?

Any number of Food Labs would be able to test your product. You can check around locally to see if anyone can provide that service. Otherwise ADEC Environmental Laboratory Services or Cooperative Extension Services can provide pH and water activity testing at a minimal cost. You can also purchase your own water activity or pH meter to test your product.

How Much Does It Cost to Get My Product Tested?
Testing costs may vary depending on where you get your product tested. Water activity and pH testing done through the ADEC Environmental Laboratory Services (a pH test is $20 and water activity is $10 per sample) or Cooperative Extension Services (pH test is $15 and water activity is $15 per sample).
Do I Need to Provide ADEC With a Copy of My Test Results?

No. You just need to keep a copy with you so you can demonstrate that the product is safe.

I Want to Sell My Product at this Week’s Farmer’s Market. There Isn’t Time to Get My Product Tested – Does That Mean I Can’t Sell?

You need to have proof, if asked, that the product you are selling is safe. Until you have that documentation your product is not considered safe.

Where Can I Sell My Finished Product?

The intention of the cottage food regulation is for the producer (the person making the product) to sell their product directly to the ultimate consumer. This means that the person who is purchasing the food from you is using that food for personal use and does not intend to resell it (to the best of your knowledge).

Products produced under the Cottage Food Exemption may be sold at Farmer’s Markets, Fairs, Bazaars, and other venues where the product is sold directly to the consumer.

Is There a Limit to the Amount I Can Sell?

The maximum gross sales from your exempt products cannot exceed $25,000 in a calendar year.

Can I Sell My Product Over the Internet?
No. You can advertise over the internet but the sales of your product must be direct in person to the consumer.
Do I Have to Label My Product?
There are specific labeling requirements associated with Cottage Foods. Foods sold under this exemption must have the statement “These products are not subject to state inspection.” The statement must be displayed on a card, placard, or sign that is conspicuously displayed on each food product that is packaged. An example of a placard can be found here: Cottage Food Placards (PDF).
Can I Sell My Product in a Retail Food Store (Such as a Convenience Store, Espresso Stand, or Temporary Food Booth)?
No. All food that is in a permitted food establishment (like an espresso stand or retail food facility) must come from an approved source. Because products that are produced under this exemption are not produced in a licensed and inspected facility, they are not considered an approved source and may not be sold in permitted food establishments.
I Have a Temporary Food Permit and Will Be Selling at a Local Event. Can I Use My Cottage Food in the Products That I Am Selling In My Temporary Food Booth?
No. All products that are sold in permitted food establishments (including temporary food booths) must use ingredients and products that come from an approved source. Because products that are produced under this exemption are not produced in a licensed and inspected facility, they are not considered an approved source. If you would like to sell items under the Cottage Food Exemptions at the same booth that has temporary food permit, the product must be clearly separated and properly labeled.

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