Rules and Regulations for Selling Food Online
The rules and regulations for selling food online can be a little tricky, as they vary so much based on where your kitchen is located.
However, there are some basics that you should prepare for before you start selling your food products. The laws and certifications required may seem daunting and time-consuming in the beginning, but they are all geared at keeping your customers safe and healthy—and minimizing your risk of accidentally making buyers sick.
Know that getting up to speed and in compliance is a step in the right direction toward building a trustworthy brand that gets recommended again and again.
Let’s dive into the requirements for your online food business, from laws to labeling requirements and beyond.
Know the General Laws Around Selling Food
, retailers who sell food
products made in their homes are required to adhere to Cottage Food Regulations.
These laws apply to baked goods, jams and jellies, dry mixes, popcorn, and
nuts, and allow you to sell at farmer’s markets and other local events
alongside your online operation. US
While the details of these laws vary slightly from state to state (and change frequently), there are a few basic requirements for compliance across the board, including:
An annual kitchen inspection from the health department
Zoning clearance and appropriate permits from local government
A state business license
A pet-free kitchen environment
Proper storage of cold and dry ingredients
If you have questions, it’s a good idea to get in touch with your state branch of the Department of Agriculture as well as your local health department for more in-depth details about what laws you’ll need to be in compliance with before you start selling food online. For European Union-based sellers, you will have a unique set of laws to get familiar with.
Get the Right Certification and Permits
Once your workspace is law-compliant, you’ll want to make sure you have the right certifications and permits to sell food online. Again, requirements vary by state, and the online marketplace is a bit of a gray area when it comes to this aspect of your business. But to err on the side of safety, it’s a good idea to at least get the following permits, training, and certifications.
Get your home business state-licensed. Many states within the
require that home businesses are
registered at the state level before any sales are made. US
Get a permit from your county. Check with local government departments to ensure that your home kitchen meets zoning and food safety requirements. If your home kitchen isn’t a viable option, you may need to consider renting an external or commercial kitchen space.
Become a certified food handler. This certification includes training that can be done in person or through online classes. During the course, you’ll learn about food safety, the best practices for preparing and storing food, cooking temperatures, handwashing, foodborne illness, and much more.
Once your kitchen space is approved for business and you’ve obtained the training you need, you can start cooking and packing up those delicious products you’ll be selling online.
Make Sure Labels Meet Requirements
When it comes time to package up your food products, you’ll want to be sure to create detailed labels that let buyers know exactly what ingredients are included. Share this information in your online product descriptions, too. This makes it easier for customers with dietary restrictions and reduces the risk of allergic reactions.
John Taylor of Taylor Family Farm, a long-time online food retailer, offers a tip for anyone getting started: “Take good pictures and be as descriptive as possible, this avoids folks having to contact you to ask questions before ordering.”
According to the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, all food products should include labels with complete disclosure of ingredients, net quantity, and weight of total ingredients, as well as the name and location of the maker of the packaged goods. When listing ingredients, start with the largest quantity and work your way down to the smallest. Specific allergens should be highlighted, such as peanuts, wheat, and soy, for example.
Labels are also a good place to point out high-quality ingredients with a backstory. If your food products have ingredients you’re proud of–like locally-sourced fruits or herbs from your home garden–showcase them on your product label as well.
Tax or No Tax?
The rules on collecting sales tax are blurry when it comes to online food businesses, but generally, legislation says that if you have a physical presence in the state (i.e. a kitchen, storefront, etc.), you do need to collect sales tax on sales made within your state of business, but not for sales made to out-of-state buyers. If you don’t have a physical presence in the state and your operation is strictly online-only, you do not need to collect sales tax.
Sales Tax Rates Vary So Much? U.S.
Taxes 101 For E-commerce Business Owners
Last, but not least, you’ll want to make sure you’re shipping your food products safely and meeting the requirements of your desired shipping provider. If your products do not require refrigeration, often times you’ll simply be required to mark your packages as “perishable” and/or “fragile”.
However, if the quality of your food products will suffer when exposed to extreme cold or heat (ask yourself: Will this easily melt?), you may need to find a shipping supplier that offers climate controlled shipments or include refrigerants in your packaging. Always insulate your packages to reduce the transfer of heat or cold through container walls.
Finally, keep in mind that fresh fruits and vegetables are nonmailable unless presented in a dry condition.
Know the Rules & Regulations to Selling Food Online
With the right information and preparation, you can get your food products off the ground in no time at all–and can rest assured that you’re making strides toward a healthy cooking environment, too.
Make sure you keep your permits and certifications up-to-date as your business progresses, and check back to see what changes have been made with laws and requirements. As a proactive business owner, you’ll earn the trust and respect of your customers and can build a reputable food business.
About The Author
Ashley leads Ecwid’s customer success initiatives and is passionate about creating happy customers and maximizing value. When she isn’t chatting with customers you’ll likely find her playing outdoors on a surf or snowboard.
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Sample Websites to Compare
20 Things Your Website Should Do and 5 Things It Shouldn’t
Sample Websites to Compare
20 Things Your Website Should Do and 5 Things It Shouldn’t
Is your small business website effectively pulling in visitors, keeping them around and converting them to customers? If your website is a little more than an online placeholder, it’s time to start putting it to work so you can grow your business and take advantage of the huge potential consumer base for the online market.
Today’s consumers are accessing your website from their desktops and laptops, and also from their smartphones and tablets. This checklist will help you make sure that your site is doing what it should for your small business – increasing your profits.
Your Website Should. . .
Sloppy, plain or homemade-looking websites are a visitor turnoff.
Have a Private Domain Name
Even if you’re using a WordPress.com, investing the few dollars a month in a web host and domain name tells visitors you’re serious about your company—and makes you more trustworthy.
If you accept online credit card payments for products or services, your site must comply with the requirements of the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI DSS).
Have a Memorable Domain Name
Make your private domain name something easy to remember. Preferably the name of your business.
Contain Your Business Name in Text
Search engines can’t index words from your logo image. Make sure your company is findable.
Contain Your Business Address in Text
Once again—no text, no search indexing. Local search results are more important than ever, so your address should be prominent.
Have Your Company Phone Number in Click-to-Call Format
With so many people looking up businesses on smartphones, offering a one-touch way to contact you will bring you more customers.
Make Contact Info Easy to Find
Search engines aren’t the only ones that need easy access to your contact information. Make sure visitors can get in touch with you quickly and conveniently.
Tell Visitors What You Do at a Glance
Through images, succinct descriptions or both, visitors to your site should be able to figure out right away what your company does.
Highlight Your USP
Your unique selling point (USP) lets visitors know why they should stick around and do business with you, instead of click back to the search results. What makes you stand out from the competition?
Show Off Customer Testimonials
The best way to tell people how great your company is is through someone else’s words.
Invite Visitor Feedback
You can learn more about what’s working and what isn’t on your website—and get more testimonials—by having a feedback form for visitors.
Speak to Your Visitors—Not Your Ego
Your website content should focus on how you can benefit your customers, instead of how awesome you are.
Offer Fresh Content
Keeping your site updated makes both visitors and search engines happy. An integrated small business blog is a great way to do this.
Natural SEO (search engine optimization) strategies are essential in getting new visitors to your website. Make sure you understand Google’s Panda and Penguin updates for the best effectiveness.
Make it Personal
You don’t have to share your favorite colors or foods, but including the names and bios of business owners and staff on your website gives things a personal touch.
Link to Other Websites
Outbound links can help improve search engine results and make you look like a valuable resource.
Have Other Websites Link to Yours
Inbound links carry even more search engine juice.
Make Checkout Easy
The more steps customers have to go through to buy something from your website, the more often they’ll abandon their carts. Don’t make them jump through hoops for an online purchase.
Connect with Social Media using Blogs.
Place social sharing buttons prominently on your website for increased reach.
Your Website Should Not. . .
Lot of Bells
Like every widget and form you can find stuffed onto your home page. Clean and to the point works much better.
Use Flash Animation, Moving Text, Fancy Cursors or Music
These things are unnecessary, annoying to most visitors and slow down your loading time.
Post Images Without ALT Tags or Text Captions
Because search engines can’t read images and descriptive text helps to increase your rankings.
Have Dead Links
Ones that lead nowhere or to an error page. Check your links frequently to make sure they still work.
List All Your Products and Services
Don’t do this in one long, continuous scroll. Break things up naturally and use smart navigation to help visitors find what they need.