Home-Based Food Production Guidelines

If you want to produce food at home, there are certain guidelines you need to follow. North Carolina authorizes making low-risk foods in home-based kitchens but only under certain circumstances. Wake County Division of Environmental Health & Safety and NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) regulate different types of foods and have their own processes to ensure the food sold to the community is safe.

Consumers are encouraged to only purchase prepared foods from permitted food establishments recognizable by their North Carolina grade card. You may also contact the Environmental Health Section of your local health department if you have questions regarding the permit status of a food vendor.

Wake County Division of Environmental Health and Safety regulations and permitting process

home based food

Wake County Division of Environmental Health & Safety regulates production of Time/Temperature Control for Safety foods. It is against the law for producers to make these foods for sale in their homes. Some examples of these regulated foods include:

  • Meats, including fish and eggs
  • Cooked vegetables
  • Products containing cut tomatoes
  • Cut leafy greens
  • Cut melons
  • Sprouts

Dishes that often contain these regulated foods include most entrees, cooked side dishes and appetizers, as well as many desserts.

If food producers want to make these foods, they need to find a commercial space, undergo the regular Plan Review process and obtain a permit. Wake County then inspects the business like any other food establishment. Wake County has 28 field staff that regularly visit food establishments to provide education, conduct inspection and support operators in creating the safest establishments possible.

While many small, home-based food producers can’t afford a commercial facility or restaurant, the use of “commissaries,” or shared kitchens, in the Wake County area is on the rise. These are clean, permitted facilities where food entrepreneurs can rent a space to create the foods. There are numerous shared-use kitchens in Wake County that have become go-to places for chefs, caterers and other food producers who face cost barriers in operating their own commercial and licensed kitchen. A quick search on the internet can help locate these increasingly popular spaces.

Apply for Permits

North Carolina Department of Agriculture Options

home based food

Low-risk homemade items that don't need refrigeration for safety such as baked goods, jams, jellies, candies, dried mixes and spices can be made at home in North Carolina under inspection by NCDA&CS. Acidic foods that can be safely stored at room temperature, or "on the shelf," are allowed, such as some BBQ sauces. These acidic foods should be product tested, and the NC State University Extension Services offers a program that does it, while providing preparation recommendations.

The producers of these foods need to contact the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for information on the home processor inspection process. They must develop a detailed business plan, check local permitting and zoning regulations, create labels and submit a copy of a recent water bill. If well water is used, it must be tested for bacteria before inspection. Wake County does not regulate preparation of low-risk homemade items

Sanitation Guidelines under the NC Department of Agriculture

Producing low-risk foods under NC Department of Agriculture guidelines starts with maintaining cleanliness to avoid cross-contamination and ensure the safety of your products for customers. North Carolina home-based food producers also cannot have any pets or animals living in or entering the home at any time.

Standard household equipment is acceptable, and the kitchen should be free of decorative items that collect dust. Adequate running water, disposal of waste and shielded lights are requirements.

The foods must also be packaged to safeguard against contamination, and should have labels displaying the product name, list of ingredients in descending order of predominance, allergen declaration (as appropriate), manufacturer’s name and address, and declaration of net contents in terms of weight or liquid measure.   

Those operating a home-based business within city or town limits should check with their municipality's planning department to ensure they don't need a home-based business permit. Many times, home-based food producers should also check whether the homeowner association in their subdivision might have restrictions on home-based businesses.

Home-based food producers inspected by the NC Department of Agriculture can sell products through various venues, including online sales, homes, farmers’ markets, roadside stands, special events, grocery stores and restaurants.

NCDA & CS regulations and inspections