New Yorkers have an entrepreneurial spirit, and they start numerous businesses every year. Some of those businesses have to do with food. But because of public health and related concerns, there are restrictions on doing so. Starting a home-based food business is legal, but it has to be done carefully and within certain limits. A knowledgeable New York business law attorney can advise you on how to get started.
Considerations Before You Begin Your Business
If you live in New York, there are state laws that govern food preparation and selling food from home. Depending on where you live in the state, there could be local rules as well. This is especially true if you live in major urban areas like New York City. Ask an attorney for guidance on the specific rules where you live and wish to start a business.
Basic legal issues surrounding home-based food businesses involve the following matters, among others:
- The type of food you can prepare
- The type of business structure you should choose
- Which permits and licenses you will need
- Basic food safety
We will discuss all of these below.
Which Foods Can You Prepare?
There are specific foods that you can make – and cannot make – in your own home to sell. For example, you can make baked goods that don’t require refrigeration. Examples are bread, rolls, and cookies. You can also make fruit preserves and certain snacks like popcorn.
But there are many items the law does not allow you to produce at home for commercial purposes. These include fluid dairy products, products with raw nuts, and chocolate candy. The website for the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets maintains a list of foods you can and cannot make.
How Will Your Business Be Structured?
Many individuals who produce food for sale at home do so as sole proprietors. However, it’s important to keep in mind that any business comes with potential liabilities.
As a sole proprietor, you are personally responsible for everything your business does. That means paying taxes, paying debts, and, if you are ever sued, paying court judgments. If your food causes illness or injury to someone, that individual could come after you personally.
To protect your assets in such an event, you may wish to adopt a more formal business structure. This could include a limited liability company or a corporation. Every business entity has pros and cons, so ask an experienced New York business lawyer which is best for you.
Will You Need Licenses and Permits?
Generally, food manufacturers and sellers must have a license to operate in New York. But you can request an exemption from the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets. Your kitchen will be subject to inspection, and your water (if on a private system) must be tested for potability.
There are restrictions on what you can do with a license exemption. And as always, more rules may apply in your local city or town. A New York business lawyer can discuss which permits, licenses, and exemptions you will need.
Food Safety Requirements for Your Home Business
There are a number of processing and handling rules you must follow to ensure the food you sell is safe. The state has a set of detailed rules that cover such matters as:
- Safe and sanitary storage containers for food
- Proper food labeling so customers know what’s in the food
- Avoiding adulteration and misbranding of food
- How glass containers are to be covered
A lawyer can discuss these with you. Remember, the safety of your food is essential if you are to stay in business and avoid a lawsuit. There are also best practices standards for different types of food that you should know about.
Starting a Home-Based Food Business? Get Legal Counsel for Your Business Needs!
Of course, there are other rules you need to be aware of besides those above. Some of them are fairly detailed, and failure to follow them could result in fines. Worse, someone who gets sick or injured may pursue a lawsuit against you. But an attorney can steer you clear of any legal minefields so you can make and sell what you love.
Ready to start your home food business? Need help defending you and your business from a lawsuit? Give Rosenbaum & Taylor a call.