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Wisconsin Cottage Food Law: A Comprehensive Overview

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April 16, 2024

The cottage food industry in Wisconsin has undergone significant changes and developments in recent years – which has sparked debates, legal battles and shifts in regulations.

From legislative proposals to court rulings, the landscape for home-based food entrepreneurs has been evolving rapidly.

So, what are the intricacies of Wisconsin’s cottage food law – what does it entail, how has it evolved and what are the potential implications for businesses and consumers?

Understanding the law
Wisconsin’s cottage food law – established to promote entrepreneurship and support local food producers – allows individuals to prepare certain low-risk food products in their home kitchens and sell them directly to consumers without needing a license from the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP).

The law defines cottage food as non-potentially hazardous items that are homemade, home-grown and produced in small batches.

These typically include baked goods, jams, jellies, certain candies and other shelf-stable products which are sold directly to consumers, often at local farmers’ markets and roadside stands.

Before the emergence of Wisconsin’s cottage food laws, selling homemade food products in Wisconsin was challenging due to strict regulations.

However, legal victories have transformed the landscape for home-based food businesses.

In May 2017, a landmark Lafayette County Circuit Court decision, and later court clarifications, prohibited enforcement of licensing requirements for home bakers who make baked goods that are not potentially hazardous and sell those items directly to consumers.

The ruling essentially struck down the state’s ban on selling home-baked goods, enabling home bakers to legally sell non-hazardous baked goods directly to consumers without the need for costly licenses or commercial-grade kitchens.

Legal victories and changes
Following the 2017 ruling, further legal battles and developments have shaped Wisconsin’s cottage food law.

In December 2022, a ruling favoring the Wisconsin Cottage Food Association in its lawsuit against the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, expanded the range of products that home-based food entrepreneurs could legally sell, including items such as rice krispies, fudge and roasted coffee.

However, despite these legal victories, challenges remain.

Proposed legislative bills, such as Assembly Bill 897 and Senate Bill 813, seek to impose sales caps and require non-potentially hazardous food preparers who are exempt from the food processing plant license whose business makes more than $2,000 per year to register with and provide contact information to DATCP.

Proponents argue for fair competition and consumer safety, while opponents raise concerns about limiting entrepreneurial opportunities and consumer choice.

For traditional food producers who maintain a brick-and-mortar storefront, have a license from the state and utilize a commercial kitchen, the concern is the cottage food industry creates unfair competition because cottage food entrepreneurs do not have the same overhead as licensed food producers do.

This is where the proposed caps on cottage food sales come in.

The proposed caps on cottage food sales of $20,000 in AB 897 and $25,000 in SB 813 are aimed at leveling the playing field while still maintaining competition.

Home-based food producers with annual sales over the proposed limits would be required to obtain licensing and begin production in a commercial kitchen, amongst other requirements.

Implications and challenges
Navigating the complexities of cottage food laws and understanding the implications of legal changes can be daunting for small-scale food businesses.

Cottage food operators must ensure compliance with labeling regulations, sales tax requirements and food safety standards while staying informed about evolving laws and regulations.

Despite these challenges, the evolution of Wisconsin’s cottage food law signifies a shift toward a more inclusive and entrepreneurial food landscape.

Legal victories have empowered home-based food entrepreneurs to pursue their passions and contribute to local economies by eliminating many of the financial and logistical barriers of entry to food production.

As discussions and debates continue, stakeholders must engage in dialogue, advocate for fair and practical regulations and support the growth of Wisconsin’s cottage food industry without undermining consumer safety or unfairly disadvantaging commercial producers.

Empowering Wisconsin’s food entrepreneurs
Wisconsin’s cottage food law has undergone significant changes in recent years, reshaping opportunities for home-based food businesses.

From legal victories overturning bans on selling homemade goods to ongoing debates about legislative proposals, the landscape for cottage food producers is evolving rapidly.

Though challenges persist, the momentum toward a more inclusive and entrepreneurial food industry is undeniable.

By staying informed, advocating for sensible regulations and supporting local food entrepreneurs, Wisconsin can continue to nurture a vibrant cottage food community.

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