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United Kingdom Cottage Food Laws and Regulations: How to sell your homemade foods in the UK

Find a local pick your own farm here!Starting your own home food business: United Kingdom Cottage Food Laws, Regulations and Facts

The UK does not have any specific Cottage Food laws, but that does not mean you can't do it!  Many people are safely making foods at home and legally selling them.

Generally speaking, the starting point is your local Council.

Below are the steps, as best we can determine them, given there is no officially defined process published by government.

 

Step 1- Determine whether your food product can be made safely at home

Two myths:

  1. I can make my own unique recipe and safely package and sell it.
  2. I can make at home and sell any food I see in the shops.

Neither is true. Food companies conduct many trials and lab tests, examining the properties of the food product, including bacterial counts, pH, water content, etc. to determine that each recipe, process and packaging yields a shelf-stable product that will be safe for a consumer to eat months later. At home, you do not have the ability to perform this type of testing.  You MUST stick to recipes, equipment and procedures that have been tested.  All of the recipes here have been tested (by universities and government labs).

Commercial food companies often have equipment that can reach temperatures and pressures that home equipment cannot. Or they have unique packaging equipment that makes the finished product shelf stable. 

The point is, producing a safe food product takes:

  1. A lab tested recipe and process
  2. The proper processing equipment (water bath canner, pressure canner , etc.)
  3. Following the steps precisely in a safe, clean setting

Some examples of foods that cannot be safely made and packaged at home include bottled pumpkin butter and most bottled dairy/egg products. Additional controls and procedures are required for potentially hazardous foods (those which require specific temperature, pH or water content) to remain safe to eat.

Step 2- Notify the local Council's Food Department

You must go on the Council's website 28 days before you plan to start your business and fill out a form there to register with the food department. Find the website for your local council.

Step 3 - Read the food regulations, study and get a food hygiene certificate

Since there will be an inspection and quiz later, you'd better study up!

See this first: Food Safety Act 1990 - a guide for food businesses as PDF (Opens in a new window)(531.99 KB)

Or, in Northern Ireland: Northern Ireland Food Safety Order 1991 business guide as PDF (Opens in a new window)(301.5 KB)

The following and more abstract.  You should definitely browse through them and be familiar, but don't expect to memorize them!

  1. Food Standards Act 1999The Food Safety Act 1990 (as amended) provides the framework for all food legislation in the England, Wales and Scotland.
  2. The Food Safety Order 1991
  3. General Food Law
  4. Codes of Practice
  5. Food Information Regulation

It's not as much as it seems, but you obviously need to know how to prepare food safely in accordance with the law if you want to sell it!

Part of this preparation is obtaining a food hygiene certificate.

Step 4 - Inspection

This registration with your local Council is usually free and usually requires an inspection of your kitchen. They usually also quiz you on your knowledge of food regulations and food safety. Having studied up and passed the Food Hygiene Certificate should have you well prepared for the inspection and quiz.

The inspection is basic stuff (like checking cleanliness, the temperature of your fridge, equipment, etc.)

Step 5 - Business considerations

Obviously, you may want some liability insurance and to discuss business matters with a solicitor and accountant who can guide you regarding Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Selling food requires you to register with HMRC as self employed which will affect your tax code. Most chose to set up as 'sole traders', but your solicitor/accountant can guide you. As a sole trader, you just pay tax on your business profit and have to complete a self-assessment tax return at the end of the year.

Next steps

If your business grows larger than your home kitchen can support, you may want to look into:

Cooking classes?

  • Harborne Food School - cooking classes
    The School Yard, 106 High Street, Harborne, Birmingham, West Midlands, B17 9NJ. Phone: 0121 426 4027. Email: info@harbornefoodschool.co.uk. On arrival you will be offered a soft drink and you will met the chef and fellow participants. This will be followed by ‘hands on’ cooking under the guidance of the chef tutor, supplemented by demonstration. Finally you will dine as a group to enjoy the dishes you have prepared. WHAT DOES THE COST OF THE CLASS INCLUDE?
    Evening classes always include cost of tuition, refreshments, ingredients, recipe pack, a final meal of the food prepared and a glass of wine or alternative. Full day classes will also include two eating experiences e.g. brunch and final meal or main lunch and dessert. We cater generously for class numbers. Usually there is food to take home.

Things to know:

The basic steps are above, but the devil, as they say, is in the details. So, here are the details:

Food labelling and packaging

Overview

To sell food and drink products, the label must be:

  • clear and easy to read
  • permanent
  • easy to understand
  • easily visible
  • not misleading

You must show certain basic information and list the ingredients. You might also have to show certain warnings.

There are special regulations for labelling wine.

Products sold loose or in catering businesses

If you run a catering business, you sell food loose or package it for sale in your shop, you only need to show:

  • the name of the food
  • if any of the ingredients have been irradiated, or have come from genetically modified sources
  • certain warnings
  • any food additive you have added
  • allergen information

You must show more information if you sell meat products loose.

Packaging

If you package food yourself, you must use packaging that’s suitable for food use. Suitable packaging is marked ‘for food contact’ or has a symbol on it that looks like a wine glass and a fork.

There are special rules for using plastics, ceramics or cellophane for packaging. You must have written evidence that you’ve kept to them.

This is known as a ‘declaration of compliance’ and you can get it from your packaging supplier. You also have to get one if you buy food that’s already packaged for sale in any of those materials.

Read the national legislation on food contact materials for England, Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland.

Allergens

Businesses need to provide allergen information if the food contains any of the 14 allergens as listed in the 'FIC regulations'. Guidance for food businesses on providing allergen information and best practice for handling allergens.

Labelling and allergens

In Wales and Northern Ireland, we are responsible for the policy on food labelling and food compositional standards which are safety and non-safety related. In Northern Ireland, this includes nutrition policy and labelling. The Welsh Government are responsible for nutrition policy and labelling in Wales.

In England, we are responsible for food safety related labelling including allergens. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) are responsible for the policy on food labelling and food compositional standards which are non-safety related only. The Department of Health and Social Care are responsible for nutrition policy and labelling.

General Food Law provisions

General Food Law includes principles (Articles 5 to 10) and requirements (Article 14 to 21). We outline the key provisions for food business operators laid down in General Food Law that apply to food business operators.

Safety

Article 14 states that food shall not be placed on the market if it is unsafe. Food is deemed to be unsafe if it is:

  • injurious to health
  • unfit for human consumption

The article also indicates what factors need to be considered when determining whether food is injurious to health or unfit.

Presentation

Article 16 states that labelling, advertising and presentation, including the setting in which the food is displayed, of food shall not mislead consumers.

Traceability

Article 18 requires food business operators to keep records of the following:

  • food
  • food substances
  • food-producing animals supplied to their business
  • businesses to which their products have been supplied.

In each case, the information shall be made available to competent authorities on demand.

Imports

Article 11 requires that food which is imported into Great Britain (GB) for placing on the market shall comply with the requirements of food law, or if there is a specific agreement between GB and the exporting country, then the imported foods must follow agreed requirements. See this page: Imported food - trade information

Exported food

Article 12 requires that food which is exported or re-exported from GB must comply with the requirements of food law, unless the authorities of the importing country have requested otherwise, or it complies with the laws, regulations and other legal and administrative procedures of the importing country.

When exporting or re-exporting food, provided the food is not injurious to health or unsafe, the competent authorities of the destination country must have agreed for the food to be exported or re-exported. The competent authorities must confirm this after they have been fully informed as to why the food could not be placed on the market.

Where there is a bilateral agreement between GB and another country, food exported from GB needs to comply with its provisions.

Withdrawal, recall and notification

Article 19 requires food business operators to withdraw food which is not compliant with food safety requirements and has left their control. Food business operators must recall the food if it has reached the consumer.

Withdrawal is when a food is removed from the market, this includes at point of sale. Recall is when customers are asked to return or destroy the product.

Food businesses must also notify the competent authorities (to us and the local authority) Retailers and distributors must help with the withdrawal of unsafe food and pass on information necessary to trace it.

Where food business operators have placed a food on the market that is injurious to health, they must immediately notify the competent authorities. There are also similar provisions for animal feed.

National legislation

England

In England, The Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013 (as amended)(Opens in a new window) (Opens in a new window) provides for the enforcement of certain provisions of retained EU law Regulation (EC) 178/2002 and for the food hygiene legislation. It also provides national law for: bulk transport by sea of liquid oils or fats and raw sugar;(Opens in a new window) (Opens in a new window)the direct supply by the producer of small quantities of meat from poultry or lagomorphs slaughtered on the farm; temperature control in retail establishments; restrictions on the sales and supply of raw cows’ drinking milk and derogations relating to low throughput establishments (slaughterhouses).

The General Food Regulations 2004(Opens in a new window) (Opens in a new window) provide the enforcement of certain provisions of retained EU law Regulation (EC) 178/2002 . It also amended the Food Safety Act 1990 to bring it in line with retained EU law Regulation (EC) 178/2002.

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Best Practices and Recommendations:

Beyond the requirements, common sense, good practices and reducing liability suggests you should do the following.

Testing of pH

​It's best to use a pH meter, properly calibrated on the day used. I use this one, which is reliable and inexpensive. And this pH meter is really good, but isn't always available.
Short-range paper pH test strips, commonly known as litmus paper, may be used instead, if the product normally has a pH of 4.0 or lower and the paper's range includes a pH of 4.6.

Record-keeping is suggested

Keep a written record of every batch of product made for sale, including:

  • ​Recipe, including procedures and ingredients
  • Amount canned and sold
  • Canning date
  • Sale dates and locations
  • Gross sales receipts
  • Results of any pH test

Sanitation

Although inspections are not required, you should consider doing the following:

  • ​Use clean equipment that has been effectively sanitized prior to use
  • Clean work surfaces and then sanitize with bleach water before and after use
  • Keep ingredients separate from other unprocessed foods
  • Keep household pets out of the work area
  • Keep walls and floors clean
  • Have adequate lighting
  • Keep window and door screens in good repair to keep insects out
  • Wash hands frequently while working
  • Consider annual testing of water if using a private well

Best Practices

  • Allergans: Most state home baking acts require an "ingredient statement" and/or an "allergen listing" on the label of the bakery item for sale; but if your state does not, you should anyway. The eight major food allergens are
    • milk,
    • eggs,
    • fish,
    • crustacean shellfish,
    • tree nuts,
    • peanuts,
    • wheat and
    • soybean.
  • Cross-allergenicity: There are also ingredients available, even flours, that can cause a cross-allergenicity. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology explains cross-allergenicity as an allergic reaction when proteins in one substance are similar to the proteins found in another substance. For example, consumption of lupine flour may trigger an allergic reaction to peanuts, and cricket flour may trigger an allergic reaction to shellfish. Again, providing such information might be a beneficial marketing tool and help keep potential consumers safe.
  • The 2 Hour/4 Hour Rule - Anyone wishing to make and sell refrigerated bakery items should remember to follow the "2 Hour/4 Hour Rule." This is a system that can be implemented when potentially hazardous foods are out of temperature control (temperatures greater than 45 degrees Fahrenheit) during preparation, serving or display for sale. The rule guidelines are as follows:
    • If a potentially hazardous food has been out of temperature control for 2 hours or less, then it may continue to be used or be placed back in the refrigerator.
    • If a potentially hazardous food has been out of temperature control for more than 2 hours but less than 4 hours, it needs to be used quickly or discarded.
    • If a potentially hazardous food has been out of temperature control for more than 4 hours, it must be discarded.

More general food business resources:

Questions? Contact Information:

Start with your local Council's food department.

Find the website for your local council.