Cottage Food Connection
Cottage Food Connection
Enews for Minnesota Cottage Food Producers

New and Improved - Cottage Food Producer Advanced Food Safety Online Course

T he online course, Cottage Food Producer Advanced Food Safety, is new and improved! University of Minnesota Extension food safety educators have updated and improved this online option for meeting the training requirements to register as a Minnesota cottage food producer. This course satisfies the training requirement for tier 2 income cottage food producers. You are considered a tier 2 cottage food producer if you make over $5,000 to $18,000 in a calendar year. It also satisfies the Cottage Food Producer Registration for a tier 1 cottage food producer selling less than $5,000/year. Training is required every 3 years for both tiers.

For more details check out the   food safety for food entrepreneurs website .
Save the date!

Put it on your calendar and attend the 2nd Annual Minnesota Cottage Food Producer Conference, January 22, 2020, at the University of Minnesota Robert J. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC), Minneapolis. Watch for details of this opportunity to learn, grow and network with other cottage food producers.

Hot-fill-hold process

A thermal (heat) process is required for most acid or acidified foods after filling the container to ensure safety and shelf stability. A hot-fill-hold process may be used instead of boiling water or steam canning for some products like salsa and sauces that have a smooth consistency, a pre-cook step and a pH of 4.1 or lower.

Research by North Carolina State University provides minimum hot-fill-hold conditions required to ensure destruction of pathogens and spoilage organisms. As with boiling water and steam thermal processing methods, the hot-fill-hold method is a precise science. Monitoring time, temperature and pH is critical to assure the destruction of E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria.

Hot-fill-hold method steps
  1. Food is heated very hot to 180-200 degrees F.
  2. Hot food is placed into pre-heated containers.
  3. A closure or lid is applied. The sealed container is inverted to ensure pasteurization of the container headspace.
Check the pH reading for each batch and write it down in your records.

To learn more, check out these resources:

These resources provide instruction and processing time/temperatures for the hot-fill-hold thermal process method.
Water Activity and Food Safety
By  Denise Busse, Dietetic Intern 
Water is abundant in so many aspects of our lives, and it is one of the  mai n components of food. It also plays a significant role in food safety, and understan ding t hat role is   critical as a cottage food producer. Water activity is not just a measurement of how much water is in the food. Let's dive in and learn a little about what water activity means.

History has shown us that one of the main ways to preserve foods has been through drying or dehydration. At first, there was little understanding of why removing moisture from food helped to preserve it. Understanding developed over time and showed that the water content of the food is less important than what that water is actually doing in the food.

Water in food products can be categorized in two ways when we consider water activity. One of the ways is bound water - or water attached to molecules or cell structures within the food. The other way is unbound water - free water. The bound water is not able to support microbial growth, chemical or enzyme reactions, or spoilage processes. It is already 'preoccupied' because it is attached to molecules and cell structures, and it is not a factor in food stability. The unbound water, on the other hand, is available to do all those things, so it must be reduced or controlled in order to ensure food safety. The free water is what is measured when water activity is tested. A level of less than or equal to 0.85 is important to prevent illness causing microorganism growth. To control spoilage microorganisms like yeasts and molds, aim for a water activity of 0.60.

Fresh foods and many processed foods - like soft cheeses and cured meats - tend to have high water activity, so proper refrigeration is crucial. Semi-moist foods - like fruitcakes, puddings, chocolate and caramel sauce - can be stored at room temperature as long as their water activity can be controlled.

A food's water activity can be reduced through a number of methods. The first, and most obvious method is by removing some of the water in the food product. Dehydrating herbs is an example, removing 80% of water. Baking removes some water as well, since it heats the water in the product until it turns into a gas. Another method is to reduce the concentration of water by adding salt or sugar, which binds up the free water. When making jams and jellies, the water activity is controlled with sugar. When fermenting foods, sufficient salting and drying help to lower the water activity. If none of the standard methods of water activity control are successful, additional protection may be achieved by using chemical preservatives, such as benzoates, sorbates, sulfites and nitrites.

Water activity can be determined through testing the food product with special equipment. To find a laboratory that will test your product's water activity for around $30, see the University of Minnesota Extension's Cottage Food Q &A.  

  1. SECTION 5: Control by Water Activity, pH, Chemicals, and Packaging. 1998. Food Microbiological Control Course. FDA.
  2. Water Activity (aw) in Foods. WHITEPAPER. 2014. Safefood 360, Inc.
  3. Water Activity's Role in Food Safety and Quality. February/March 2001. Food Safety Magazine. 
  4. Explain what water activity is and how it relates to bacterial growth. Clemson University, Clemson, SC.

Ellen Carlson - Love Story Cakes

"Passion" describes Ellen Carlson, owner operator of Love Story Cakes. This Minnesota based wedding vendor offers cake products and services for happy couples all over the twin cities. Ellen is passionate about cakes and delivering amazing flavor, passionate about creating edible art and passionate about working with engaged couples!
Working one day a week at a local family owned bakery with a renowned five-generation reputation sparked the concept of launching her own small batch, home-based cottage food business. While working at the bakery, Ellen didn't decorate cakes, but she learned a tremendous amount about baking for the public and about efficient processes for handling, preparing, baking, packaging and storing food. Ellen explains, "The practice of safe food handling has to be unfailing, one hundred percent of the time. Every action I take needs to be founded in safety and safe food delivery. Maybe it comes from a quarter century of working in banking. During the week at my full-time job, I am faced with regulations and laws, policies and practices that govern every action I take to put the customer first. It was a natural fit to continue that mindset into my part-time job at the bakery and now into my wedding cake business. I am very used to being responsible for knowing the exact regulation and understanding why it exists. I have held insurance and securities licenses and am currently certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP); all of which are regulated and have continuing education requirements. I am proud of the laws Minnesota has in place to register and regulate Cottage Food Producers."

Ellen uses the University of Minnesota Food Safety Resources online and she created her own handbook for quick reference by organizing the notes she took during her State required Cottage Food Producer Food Safety training course.
Quality an d flavor are two distinctions Ellen calls out about her produ cts. In preparation f or starting her business, she has been growing the number of people who have sa mpled her cake products into the hundreds over recent y ears. She likens the reactions she gets to a home run, exclaiming, "I love creating quality products and flavor combinations that are just like hitting one over the fence! You know when you see the faces of the people enjoying your cake that you have created something amazing and enjoyable!"

To learn more, visit or contact Ellen @952-994-5333.  
Shelf life testing: What is it? Do I need to do it for my cottage food products?

Welcome and thank you to our guest authors, Ben Swanson, AURI Food Scientist, Lolly Occhino, AURI Food Scientist, and Jason Robinson, AURI Project and Business Development. The Agricultural Utilization Research Institute's (AURI) mission is to foster long-term economic benefit through value-added agricultural products. It accomplishes this by using science and technology to help develop new uses for agricultural products, and partnering with businesses and entrepreneurs to help them take advantage of innovative opportunities in four focus areas: bio based products, renewable energy, co-products and food. To learn more, please visit .
Most packaged food entrepreneurs start similarly, with production at home or in a shared kitchen, then hand packing products into simple packaging. One common question asked by consumers is, "how long will this product last?" In the food industry, this is a product's shelf life, defined as the length of time a product remains usable, fit for consumption, or salable. Using this definition, an entrepreneur should consider that a food product's shelf life is only as long as it meets the quality experience the entrepreneur expects to deliver to consumers.
Two components characterize a product's quality and resulting shelf life:
Microbiological spoilage: Yeast, mold, or bacterial growth changing product attributes (taste, texture, aroma, appearance) but are generally not food safety concerns. Typically, processing, product pH (acidity/alkalinity) and water activity (the amount of water available to hydrate microorganisms) limit growth. Refrigeration and/or preservatives can slow down the rate but will not prevent growth.
Chemical and physical changes: As a product ages or is exposed to external factors (moisture, heat, oxygen, and/or light), it will undergo chemical or physical changes. While not harmful to the consumer, they might not purchase a product again should the experience not meet expectations while still in code date. For example, age, heat, and light exposure force a chemical change in peanuts and almonds, resulting in a paint-like taste and smell. This is known as oxidative rancidity, something that is not a food safety issue, but will ruin the experience of the product for the consumer.

How age, moisture, heat, oxygen, and light exposure impact a product's shelf life is directly related to ingredients, processing, and packaging decisions.
Ingredient selection plays a key role in determining shelf life : For instance, high fat ingredients are typically more susceptible to negative chemical changes, and using aged ingredients can adversely impact shelf life. At the same time, selecting fresh ingredients or using ingredients with natural preservation properties can extend shelf life.
Processing, such as drying or grinding, can positively or negatively impact shelf life : Processing works together with ingredient selection - for instance, grinding high fat ingredients will expose even more of the fat to oxygen in the air, accelerating oxidative rancidity.
Even with careful ingredient selection and appropriate processing, a product's shelf life will be impacted by selecting a package with poor barrier properties or poor package sealing. To learn more visit and download Packaging Guide for Scaling Food Businesses. Check back for the Shelf Life Guide for Scaling Food Businesses, coming in 2020.
Determining shelf life requires a study evaluating product attributes over time at typical storage conditions. Often, this can be as simple as holding multiple samples of a single product under steady temperature and light conditions, then comparing that product to a reference sample (for example, a frozen sample). The time at which a certain product attribute no longer meets the entrepreneur's quality expectations (known as the mode of failure, which differs by product) is the shelf life end point reflected in its labeled code date under these test conditions (in reality, however, products will be subjected to more extreme conditions, likely decreasing shelf life). Evaluating "like" retail products (in the same category using similar processing and /or ingredients) can provide a quick assessment, but a formal study should follow. Note that, once launched, it is much easier to communicate an increase in shelf life than a decrease.
Finally, regarding food safety - consumers often misinterpret shelf life as "how long a food product is safe to consume," in addition to product quality changes over time. It is crucial to build food safety into both the product recipe and processing schemes. The more generic term "shelf life" describes how the product quality changes over time.
Editor's Note: For current Minnesota Cottage Food Producers, shelf life testing is not required nor is freshness or use by date. AURI is a tremendous resource to utilize as you consider moving to the next level of food production.

Beyond cottage food acidified food course  University of Minnesota, October 1-2, 2019. 

Ready to sell your canned salsa to grocery stores? BBQ sauce is selling like hot cakes and you're reaching the $18,000 sales limit? Canning salsa, pickles and other acidified foods for sale beyond cottage food customers in Minnesota requires specific certification. This two-day workshop is intended for supervisors of thermally processed acidified food facilities and licensed food entrepreneurs who produce acidified foods. It provides the certification required by the Acidified Foods Regulation.

Handling fresh fruits and vegetables safely University of Minnesota Extension.
Fresh produce may become contaminated with bacteria, viruses and parasites at any point during its field to table journey. Safe handling of produce can reduce contamination so you don't get sick. 
Say "No" to raw dough! Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
CDC provides the why, how and ways to prevent foodborne illness from eating raw dough and batters. 

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Written by Kathy Brandt, Extension Food Safety Educator; reviewed by Suzanne Driessen, Extension Food Safety Educator; designed and edited by Lisa Haro, Executive Office and Administrative Specialist, University of Minnesota Extension.

© 2019 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved. University of Minnesota Extension is an equal opportunity educator and employer. In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, this material is available in alternative formats upon request. Direct requests to 612-624-0772.