Food & Drug Protection Division
Starting a home-based food business
The following steps will guide you through the application for home processor inspection
Step 1. Verify that your product can be manufactured from the home.
Low risk foods are the only products allowed to be processed in your home kitchen. Low risk food products are items that are shelf stable and do not require refrigeration or freezing. These low-risk food products may include:
- Baked goods that do not require refrigeration
- Jams, jellies, and preserves
- Dried mixes/Spices
- Some liquids (i.e. ice tea, coffee, lemonade, etc. )
- Some sauces (i.e. balsamic dressing, etc. )
- Acid and acidified foods (i.e. pickles, bbq sauce, etc.)
- Freeze dried fruits/vegetables
Any sauces or freeze dried food products (excluding candies) that are allowed under the home processing program will be required to first be evaluated to determine if they are shelf stable. If you are planning on producing pickles or other acidified food products, please contact our office at (984) 236-4820. For more information on product testing, you may also visit the NC State University Extension website or go to the “Product Testing” section below.
High risk food products are not permitted to be produced in your home kitchen and can only be produced commercially under our routine inspection program. This also includes products that are purchased prepackaged from a retailer or wholesaler that require refrigeration. High risk products include, but are not limited to the following:
- Refrigerated or frozen products
- Low-acid canned foods (i.e. jarred fruits, vegetables, etc. )
- Dairy Products
- Seafood products
- Bottled water/Juice Products
- Bakery products with cream or cream cheese fillings; cheesecakes
If you are uncertain if your canned goods are low-acid or acidified or are interested in starting a commercial business, please contact an Agricultural Compliance Officer at (984) 236-4820 for guidance.
Step 2. Do you have a pet that comes in your home at any time (even if only at night)?
If so, you cannot manufacture foods from your home kitchen as this practice is a violation of the Good Manufacturing Practices (21 CFR 110). As a home processor processing food for sales, you are viewed as a Food Manufacturing Facility.
Step 3. Check your home processing area to ensure it meets federal food safety requirements.
Your home processing area must meet the standards set by:
- Code of Federal Regulations (21 CFR 110) also know as Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP)
- N.C. Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
Additional regulations are required for pickled (acidified) foods:
- Code of Federal Regulations (21 CFR 114) Acidified Foods
- Code of Federal Regulations (21 CFR 108) Emergency Permit Control
- Food contact surfaces must be smooth and easily cleanable.
- Home must be free of insects, rodents and other pests including privately owned pets (see step 2).
- Kitchen and bathroom sinks must have adequate hot and cold running water and must be easily accessible from the processing area. In accordance with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), the kitchen sink can only be used for food preparation. Hand washing must be done in a separate sink or bathroom sink.
- Thermometer must be kept in the refrigerator and freezer to monitor temperatures.
- Waste must be carried away from the house in an acceptable fashion (sewer or septic system). Areas in and around the processing area must also be maintained in a condition that will prevent any of the food products, equipment, and supplies from becoming contaminated.
- All light bulbs in the kitchen must have protective shields made of non-glass material or have shatter-proof bulbs.
Please see the “Additional Information” section for details on the inspection process and what to expect during the actual visit to your home.
Step 4. Contact your local planning/zoning department
Once you have determined that you qualify for a home-based food business, you should check with your local planning office to determine if you are permitted to operate a food business from your home and if permits are required. You should also check with your Homeowners Association (HOA) or your leasing office (rented home or apartments) to ensure a home-based business is allowed. County government link:
Step 5. Municipal/Well water
If your home uses municipal/city water, you will need to provide a copy of your most recent water bill or letter from your leasing office if your bill is part of your rent. If your only water source comes from a private well, then the water must be tested for coliform bacteria and E-coli before an inspection is made. Test results must be within one (1) year of submitting your application and must be attached with your completed application. It is recommended that you contact your local health department for well water testing, however. Testing is also available through private companies as well.
Step 6. Develop your business plan
Provide a brief description of your business to be included with your application to become a home processor. All information below must be included in your business plan and must be as detailed as possible. The following should be included:
- Provide a detailed list of specific types of products by name that will be produced
- Indicate where the home kitchen is located (i.e. separate room, converted garage, etc.)
- Complete and detailed list of ingredients used and the suppliers
- A plan for storage of supplies, equipment, ingredients, and finished product
- A general production flow including procedures and equipment used
- Describe how your product(s) will be transported (i.e. personal vehicle, food truck, etc.)
- List of potential locations where you plan to sell your product (i.e. retail from home, farmers market, local businesses, etc.)
Some products may also require additional evaluation. For example, “Apple Butter” would need to be evaluated because there is no standard of identity for this product as on the other hand, “Apple Jelly” would not need further evaluation
The NCDA&CS Marketing Division may also be able to provide additional help developing a business plan. Please visit www.ncagr.gov/markets/agbizmarketing.htm
Step 7. Food product labels
Food product labels shall be required if products are individually packaged for self-service sale or sold wholesale to retail stores, distributors, or restaurants. Labels shall also be required if products are shipped using postal services such as USPS or FEDEX. Any products to be sold to consumers must be properly packaged in food grade material that will adequately protect foods from contamination. The label must be affixed to the package bearing the following:
1. Product name
2. Manufacturers name and address
3. Net weight of the product in ounces/pounds and the gram weight equivalent
4. Complete list of ingredients in order of predominance by weight
On a product label, the ingredients are listed in order of predominance, with the ingredients used in the greatest amount first, followed in descending order by those in smaller amounts. Ingredients such as “eggs” or “salt” that are single source ingredients are to be listed using the common name of the ingredient. In the ingredient statement, if an ingredient is made up of more than one component, all subcomponents are to be listed in parentheses immediately following the name of the ingredient. For example, “Butter” would be listed as Butter (cream, salt). The easiest way to know what needs to be listed is to look at the ingredient statement on the ingredient package and copy it into your label. Nutritional labels are not required under the home processor program, however. If certain claims are made on the product (i.e. low fat, sugar free, etc.) then a nutritional label must also be added to your product.
The only exemptions to having an affixed label is if the product being produced is sold on demand directly to the consumer. This may include picking up orders from your home, delivering finished products to the consumers, or delivering products to special events (i.e. weddings, birthday party, etc.). Selling products from farmers markets or similar venues may also be exempt from having a label, however. Ingredient information must be available upon request by the consumer.
More information on labeling requirements is available at:
- FDA Food Labeling Guide
- 21 CFR 101: Food Labeling
Step 8: Complete the Application for Home Processing Inspection
Complete the Application for Home Processor Inspection (link to PDF). You can either mail or email the finished application along with the required documents to the mailing or email address listed below.
Email the completed form to:
Mail the completed form to:
Kaye J. Snipes
If you choose to email your application, please ensure that your application and supporting documents can be attached in PDF or Microsoft word format. Please check your email periodically for correspondence from our Regulatory Specialists as inspection scheduling are typically made via email. If you choose to mail in your application, it is highly recommended that you do a follow-up at least a week after mailing it to ensure that your application was successfully received.
Within six (6) to eight (8) weeks of receiving your application, a Food Regulatory Specialist will contact you to arrange a home processing facility inspection, however. Please keep in mind that this is only an approximate timeframe, and it may take longer for an inspector to contact applicants during the holiday seasons or if they have a busy schedule.
For applicants without email access, appointments will be made by phone. If you have additional questions regarding home processing, please contact our office at (984) 236-4820 or send them to email@example.com.
Products that fall under the following categories below may require testing for pH (acidity) or Aw (water activity) levels:
- Acid/Acidified foods
- Homemade Cream Cheese Frostings
- “Moist” breads/cakes, and some pies
- Freeze dried foods (not including candies )
- Any questionable products
Once complete, the laboratory where your product was tested will provide you with a Process Authority Letter . A copy of this letter must be submitted along with your application for review. Additionally, applicants planning on producing acidified food products may be required to take an Acidified Food Course and must also provide a Certificate of Completion along with your application.
For more information on the Acidified Food Course, please contact NC State University at 919-513-2090. Product testing is available through N.C. State University Extension Program or may be available through certified commercial labs close to your area.
The Inspection Process
A home-based kitchen inspector checks the kitchen to be sure it is clean, constructed of suitable materials and is free of any pest activity (insect or rodent) including pets. Remember that indoor pets would also be considered pests and are not permitted under the home processing program.
Standard household equipment and appliances are acceptable. The equipment and appliances can be used for both personal and commercial use. Standard household sinks are acceptable. The kitchen should be free of decorative materials which could collect dust. Running water at a suitable temperature and pressure is required. There is not a specific temperature requirement for hot water, as long as it is hot enough to accomplish cleaning and sanitizing of equipment and utensils.
Waste should be conveyed away from the house in an acceptable fashion (Sewer or Septic Tank). Any lights in the kitchen or any processing or packaging areas should be shielded against accidental breakage.
The inspection will be focused on the kitchen and other areas where processing and packaging of products may take place. Areas of the house in which materials, ingredients and equipment are stored will also be inspected. Inspectors may also walk around the exterior of the house to verify that the foundation is intact and will not allow for the entry of pests.
A permit is not issued, but inspectors will alert the homeowner to any possible violations of the N.C. Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
- File for a tax number
There are several types of tax numbers. If a business is planning to have sales, a Sales & Use Tax number (NC-BR) is required. Businesses having employees are required to obtain a Federal Employer Identification number (SS-4 form) along with a N.C. withholding tax number. The N.C. Business License Information Office can provide application forms to businesses for these numbers.
- Register business name
The type of business structure determines where a business name (assumed name) should be registered. A Certificate of Assumed Name for sole proprietorships and partnerships must be filed with the Register of Deeds in the county or counties where businesses plan to operate. Corporations or Limited Liability Companies must register their business names with the N.C. Secretary of State, Corporations Division.
- Apply for a UPC code
Many retailers now require a Uniform Product Code (UPC) for each product they carry. A UPC barcode allows automated checkout stands to read the name of the manufacturer and the specific product from the barcode. To apply for UPC barcode, visit the GS1 US website or you may contact the company directly.
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- Marketing Assistance
- NCDA Marketing: Apply for Got To Be NC Membership Today!
- NC State Food Science Department's Guide for Small Food Processors in North Carolina
- N.C. Business License Information Office
- N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Marketing Division Agribusiness Development Office
- FDA Good Manufacturing Practice Guidelines
- NC Shared-Use and Business Incubator Kitchens