Some cottage food laws require various types of training, but regardless of the requirements, it’s usually a good idea to take some form of food safety course before starting your home food business. The most basic type of training is a food handler’s course, which is very inexpensive and can be completed online. Some states require more advanced training, and in some cases, product-specific training classes are necessary.
Food Handler Course
Regardless of whether your state’s cottage food law requires it, you should seriously consider taking an online food handler’s course. It costs $10 – $15 and only takes a few hours. It covers the most basic and important aspects of food safety, and every employee in any commercial food business is required to take this course at a minimum.
One of the most popular options is the ServSafe Food Handler Course, which typically costs $15. A few states do not recognize ServSafe’s course (usually when the state’s health department only allows their own food safety courses), but most do. Before purchasing the course, look online for coupons, since sometimes there are discounts of up to 50%.
Even if ServSafe says that your state recognizes and approves its course, the requirements for cottage food operations could be different. You should check your cottage food law (in its “Business” section) to make sure that there isn’t a more specific course you need to take.
The online training usually doesn’t take more than 3 hours to complete, and most people consider it very easy to pass. You don’t need to do anything beforehand to prepare for the course. The training is broken up into modules and you click through to complete each module. Some modules are interactive and have mini-quizzes to verify what you’re learning. At the end of the course, you take an exam and you will pass if you get at least 75% of the questions correct.
Food Manager Training
In some states, a food handler course isn’t sufficient. This usually happens when the health or ag department requires all food businesses to have at least one person complete food manager training. In the case of a cottage food operation, that one person is you.
A food manager course is generally significantly more expensive and lengthy than the food handler’s course. The manager training generally covers the same areas as the food handler training, but much more in-depth. That being said, food manager courses can vary widely, depending on your instructor and state’s requirements.
ServSafe has an online food manager course available, but your state might not recognize that as an option. It’s very likely that you will have to complete this course in-person with an instructor in your area. Even if you can take the course online, you’ll usually be working with a specific instructor during the class.
Product Specific Training
For most non-PHF cottage foods, specific training is not required. However, if your state allows acidified or low-acid canned goods, then there’s a good chance that you will need to take a class to learn safe canning methods. Most states’ cottage food laws don’t allow those items due to the concern of botulism.
If you have to take a class on safe canning practices, then you’ll likely have to attend a “better process control school”. These courses often last multiple days and cost hundreds of dollars. However, the classes are thorough for good reason: canning low-acid or acidified foods can become quite dangerous if you don’t follow the proper procedures.