Washington is probably the most difficult state for someone to get started as a cottage food operator. The application for a cottage food permit is very long, and it requires the applicant to complete many of the steps a full food processor would have to complete. Most states that require cottage food operators to jump through many hoops to get registered also give them a lot more flexibility in how they choose to run their business, but in Washington, a cottage food operation is limited to only $25,000 of sales per year, and indirect sales (to restaurants, stores, etc.) are not allowed.
Fortunately, Washington has a lot of information online about their cottage food law, which helps clarify the complicated process. Before getting a permit, an operator must take a training course, get a business license, submit an application with a very detailed business plan, have their recipes approved, and get their home inspected. The whole process costs $240 or more (with an annual $230 renewal), and it could take up to two months for the operator to get approved.
After failed attempts to improve the law in 2013 and 2014, two amendments (SB 5603 & HB 1622) passed in 2015. Washington’s cottage food law went into effect in the summer of 2011, but it took almost a year for the government to finalize the application process and allow their first cottage food operator in the summer of 2012.
The operation’s permit must be displayed wherever sales are taking place.
Sales made through the internet must be picked up or delivered in person within the state.
Dried coffee, tea, herbs, seasonings, and other dry mixtures may only be made by recombining commercially-produced dry ingredients.
Products may contain a small amount of liquor (1% or less, by weight).
The cottage food operator and all employees must obtain a food worker card before applying for a cottage food permit. A card costs $10 and is valid for 2 years. Most health departments accept a card from Do it Right, Serve it Safe, which is the only authorized online course in the state.
The operator must then apply for a cottage food permit, which costs $30 and must be renewed annually. There are a lot of application requirements, and here is a copy of the application packet. Requirements include a floor plan of the kitchen, detailed recipes and labels for each product, processing and packaging plans, an equipment list and cleaning plan, a sales plan, and a plan for child and pet management.
Once the Department of Agriculture receives the application, they will conduct a public health review ($75) to ensure that the recipes and labels in the application are safe. Public health reviews must be conducted every year.
After the review, an official from the department will come to the home of the pending cottage food operation to do a kitchen inspection, which costs $125. If the kitchen doesn’t pass, every subsequent inspection will also cost $125. Each year, another inspection (and fee) will be required.
If the home kitchen uses a private water supply, the water must be tested and approved within 60 days of applying for the cottage food permit. This will incur additional fees, and the water must be retested annually.
The food worker card, business license, and water testing must be taken care of before applying.
When adding together the training, license, permit, review, and inspection, the base cost of getting started is between $240 and $365. It could cost even more than that with additional employees, a private water supply, or the need for more than one inspection.
After the operation is approved, if any changes are made to the business, then a permit amendment must be submitted at the same individual fees listed above. For instance, adding another recipe to the application would cost $105, because it would require a public health review and a new permit.
The permit period for cottage food operations is from February 1st through January 31st. Each year, operations must renew their permit, which will cost at least $230.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
"Made in a home kitchen that has not been subject to standard inspection criteria" (11-point type)
Forrager Cookie Company
123 Chewy Way, Cookietown, WA 73531
Ingredients: enriched flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), butter (cream, salt), semi-sweet chocolate (sugar, chocolate, cocoa butter, milkfat, soy lecithin, natural flavors), brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, vanilla extract (vanilla bean extract, alcohol, sugar), baking soda, salt (salt, calcium silicate)
NET WT 2 lb 4 oz (1.02 kg)
If a nutritional claim is made on the label, a nutrition info panel must be included as well.
If a product contains liquor, the label must state “This product contains liquor and the alcohol content is one percent or less of the weight of the product.”
Large cakes or bulk items may be labeled with a separate product sheet containing the required information.
Only the cottage food operator and the operation’s employees may be in the kitchen while food preparation is occurring.
Cottage food products may only be stored within the home, and they must be placed in a designated area to separate business items from those for personal use.