What foods can be sold safely and legally under the Cottage Law?

ECTOR COUNTY, Texas (KMID/KPEJ)- The Ector County Health Department is responding to social media backlash after it confiscated tamales from an unlicensed couple selling them out of their vehicle. ECHD posted the photo of the seized goods- 25 dozen homemade tamales- on Facebook last week and the post was met with a fair amount of criticism.

Now, ECHD said it understands why some people were upset after its post, but stressed that the public’s safety will always come first. Director Brandy Garcia said that selling certain foods without a license is a violation of the Texas Health and Safety Code. She also said the practice can be dangerous and can lead to food-born illness.

“It’s very hard to trace food born illnesses, and so if there was a case where there was a food born illness and someone passed away, we would have to trace back to see what they ate and where they got that product from, so that’s why it’s very important to purchase from licensed vendors,” Garcia said.

ECHD also said the couple it confiscated the tamales from is a repeat offender. Garcia said that her department will always work with would-be vendors to show them how their food can be sold safely and legally.

Under the Cottage Law, certain foods CAN be sold legally without a license. So what foods are safe to sell, and buy?

Under the Cottage Law, these foods are allowed:

  • Baked goods that do not require refrigeration, such as cakes, cookies, breads, and pastries.
  • Candy (including chocolate, chocolate-dipped pretzels, etc.).
  • Coated and uncoated nuts.
  • Unroasted nut butters.
  • Some Fruit butters.
  • Canned jams and jellies.
  • Fruit pies.
  • Dehydrated fruits and vegetables, including dried beans.
  • Popcorn and popcorn snacks.
  • Cereal, including granola.
  • Dry mixes.
  • Vinegar.
  • Mustard.
  • Roasted coffee or dry tea.
  • Dried herbs or herb mixes.
  • Pickled fruits and vegetables, subject to some additional requirements.
  • Acidified, plant-based canned foods, subject to some additional requirements.
  • Fermented vegetables, subject to some additional requirements.
  • Frozen raw and uncut fruits and vegetables, subject to some additional requirements.
  • Any other non-Time and Temperature Controlled for Safety (non-TTCS) food.

FRUIT BUTTERS: You will need to determine if your fruit butter is high-acid, low-acid, or acidified:

  • High-acid fruit butters may be sold by cottage food producers without additional requirements. These include apple, apricot, grape, peach, plum, quince, and prune butters.
  • Low-acid fruit butters may not be sold by cottage food producers. This would include pumpkin, banana, and pear butters.
  • Acidified fruit butters may be sold by cottage food producers if the final equilibrium pH is 4.6 or lower. 

What about frozen fruits & vegetables?

Frozen fruits or vegetables that are raw and uncut are also allowed under the cottage food law. Two additional requirements apply:

  • They must be stored and delivered at an air temperature of not more than 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and
  • They must be labeled or accompanied by an invoice that includes the following statement in at least 12-point font: “SAFE HANDLING INSTRUCTIONS: To prevent illness from bacteria, keep this food frozen until preparing for consumption.”

Types of foods that CANNOT be sold under the Cottage Food Law

In addition to the foods that cannot be pickled or fermented to be sold under the Cottage Food Law, foods that are NOT allowed under the Cottage Food Law include:

  • Meat, poultry, or seafood products, including beef jerky. (Even though jerky is shelf-stable, the fact that it is a meat-based product means that it is subject to USDA regulations and cannot be within the state’s cottage food law.)
  • Dairy products.
  • Raw seed sprouts.
  • Baked goods that require refrigeration, such as cheesecake, tres leches cake, pumpkin pie, and meringue pies.
  • Beverages: juices, coffee, tea, etc. (Note that coffee beans and tea bags are allowed, just not the ready-to-serve beverages.)
  • Ice products.
  • Any other food that needs time or temperature controls to prevent the growth of bacteria.

To learn more about food safety under the Cottage Law, you’ll find more information here.