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COVID-19 and Cottage Food Operations: 10 Considerations

As Florida consumers are concerned about coronavirus, it is crucial that sanitation and hygiene best practices are followed. This is very important to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to help flatten the curve in our county and state. Consumers and families are looking for advice on food safety to avoid infection from COVID-19. Cottage food operations and operators must be vigilant about following sanitation and personal hygiene practices, as well as, being informed of the 2020 Governor’s Executive Orders and guidelines set forth by the CDC and the Department of Health.

• The state of FL, 2020 Executive Orders: https://www.flgov.com/2020-executive-orders/

• See order #2020-91 on essential services and activities that went into effect at midnight on April 3, 2020.

COVID-19 and Cottage Food Operations in 2020

Based on the current data, even if food is not documented to be a vehicle of transmission for COVID-19, people who operate a cottage food business, need to continue to practice good hygiene and follow guidance from local and state authorities.  Cottage food operators should consider following the CDC recommendation and wear a cloth mask during product production. Many food businesses already have this in place as a standard operating procedure. If someone in the family has tested positive for COVID-19, they should stop production. Always follow recommended food safety and sanitation practices.

10 Considerations for Cottage Food Operators

1. You must follow city, state and/or national regulations and restrictions as well as be informed about the content in the 2020 Florida Governor’s Executive Orders.

2. Food safety and Fight Bac guidelines remain the same. https://www.fightbac.org/

3. Always follow good hygiene, food safety and sanitation principles.

a. Handwashing recommendations for food handlers are the same. Wash hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Keep fingernails short and clean.
b. Protect yourself and others: Cover your cough and sneeze. Toss the tissue immediately into the trash.
c. Wash hands after using the restroom, after coughing, sneezing, or using a tissue, before and after eating meals, after touching “high-touch” surfaces, after touching pets, after handling raw food, before putting on gloves, and after handling money.
d. Avoid touching face, nose, eyes and mouth.

4. Clean and sanitize high touch surfaces, equipment, product containers/packaging and other frequently used objects.

a. Frequently touched surfaces must be wiped down and sanitized. (Examples such as: appliance handles, dials, switches, knobs and keypads, tabletops, countertops, light switches, sink faucet and handles and trash receptacles and lids.)
b. Follow the manufacturers guidelines for cleaning and sanitizing products and equipment.
c. For sanitation: Use 5 Tablespoons (1/3 cup) of bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water. Make sure you mix in a ventilated area and follow the manufacturers recommendations for use. Use containers of bleach that have been opened no longer than 30 days.
https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FS/FS32800.pdf
d. Be careful with handling packages and containers. Sanitize and wipe down those that are non-absorbent. Use caution to assure chemicals are not seeping into product.
e. Cease providing packaged samples as these are high touch items.
f. Use preventative measures for cleaning and disinfecting reusable bags. Coronavirus may remain on some surfaces for hours or days. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FS/FS35400.pdf

5. This may not be the best time to conduct in-home sales. Evaluate and consider modifying the sales route used and follow the guidelines set forth by the authorities. You may want to opt for alternate pick up locations when delivering pre-orders.

6. Social distancing applies. Maintain the recommended distance (6 feet) from others.

7. Know which businesses are considered essential. Follow the 2020 Executive Orders from the FL Governor.

8. Farmers markets are shut down since these are generally comprised of gatherings of more than 10 people. COVID-19 FAQ for Farmers Markets: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FS/FS32600.pdf

a. Follow local stay-at-home orders. Vendors and customers should stay at home if sick.
b. If someone in your living space is home sick with coronavirus or another infectious disease, production in your home kitchen should be stopped. NOTE: Coronavirus is not a food-borne illness. The spread of coronavirus can be slowed by proper handwashing, covering coughs and sneezes, and sanitizing high touch surfaces and objects.
c. As a business owner, seek medical attention if you have a fever, cough or shortness of breath. Know your county’s protocol for testing requirements and procedures.
d. Again, follow COVID-19 guidelines for cleaning, sanitizing and monitoring illness set forth by the CDC and the Department of Health. http://www.floridahealth.gov/; https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

9. Consider taking the ServSafe class at your local Extension office, when classes resume. https://www.eventbrite.com/o/ufifas-extension-food-safety-amp-quality-program-6700977779

10. Stay tuned for more COVID-19 information and updates during the month, and beyond. This is an unprecedented time for Cottage Food operators and businesses.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Cottage Food business in FL

FDACS is the government agency that regulates all Florida cottage food operation(s). Information can be found at FDACS’ cottage food website: https://www.freshfromflorida.com/Business-Services/Food-Establishment-Inspections/Cottage-Foods.

What is the Cottage Food Law?
This is a law that allows small-time producers to use an unlicensed home kitchen and its appliances to manufacture/process low-risk foods and sell directly to consumers. The primary goal of the law is to help small-time producers/processors to start a food business with minimal regulatory requirements and/or licenses.  Examples of cottage food include products such as honey, cakes, breads, popcorn, popcorn balls, cookies, jams, jellies, dried herbs or candy. 

Cottage Food Law Basics
• Cottage food operators can sell cottage foods only within the state of Florida and not across state lines.
• Cottage food operators may sell cottage food products on their website, but the products are prohibited to be delivered by mail order.
• Cottage food products must be delivered directly to the consumer or to the consumer’s private event such as a wedding or birthday party.
• Cottage food products cannot be sold wholesale.
• Cottage foods must be properly packaged and labeled. Cottage food operators can serve free samples for tasting, but the samples must be prepackaged.
• A cottage food operation must comply with all applicable county and municipal laws and ordinances regulating the preparation.
https://www.fdacs.gov/Business-Services/Food-Establishments/Cottage-Foods

Cottage food operators must review and be knowledgeable about cottage food operation requirements and/or applicable COVID-19 updates in their state.

References and Resources:

1. UF/IFAS Broward Website, Family and Consumer Sciences- http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/broward/family-and-consumer-sciences/

2. UF/IFAS Broward Extension Blogs- http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/browardco/

3. UF/IFAS Broward Extension Blogs/All About Cottage Food- http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/browardco/2019/08/23/all-about-cottage-food/

4. UF/IFAS Extension, Solutions for Your Life, Family Resources- http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/family-resources/

5. Cottage Foods- 2018 Florida Statutes, Chapter 500-
http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0500-0599/0500/Sections/0500.80.html

6. US Food and Drug Administration; Food Code- https://www.fda.gov/food/fda-food-code/food-code-2009

7. FDACS of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Food Safety; Cottage Food Legislation Signed into Law- https://www.freshfromflorida.com/content/download/10223/137606/CottageFoodAdvisoryWithFormNumber.pdf

8. Proper Handwashing for Food Handlers- https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/media/sfylifasufledu/broward/docs/pdfs/fcs/other-pdfs/FY72600-Handwashing-for-Food-Handlers.pdf

9. CDC- https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

10. Florida Department of Health- http://www.floridahealth.gov/

11. Consumer questions about cottage food industry/food safety practices/Division of Food Safety/FDACS- (850) 245-552

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