Honey producers in Florida have two main avenues for selling their hive products. Larger operations must be properly permitted by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Food Safety and must bottle honey in an inspected food facility or establishment. Smaller-scale honey producers, however, may be exempt from needing these licenses under Florida's cottage food laws by doing the bottling in a home kitchen.
Honey Processors Covered by the Cottage Food Laws
Section 500.80(5), Florida Statutes, and United States Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, Part 101 (http://leg.state.fl.us/statutes/) allows individuals to manufacture, sell, and store certain types of "cottage foods" (including honey) in an unlicensed kitchen (primary home kitchen). "Cottage food operations," as they are called, do not require a food permit from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) and are not inspected by any other state government entity.
Beekeepers qualify for this exemption provided they:
do not exceed $50,000 in annual gross sales;
sell honey direct to the consumer from the home, a roadside stand, a farmers market, or a flea market;
upon request provide the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services with written documentation to verify their operations' annual gross sales;
store all cottage food honey on the premises of the cottage food operation;
do not engage in internet, mail order, consignment, or "wholesale" sales; and
properly label their cottage foods.
Requirements for Cottage Food Labels
Cottage food products must be labeled in accordance with the requirements as outlined in Section 500.80 (5), Florida Statutes and United States Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, Part 101. (https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?CFRPart=101) and guidance (https://www.freshfromflorida.com/content/download/70108/1634054/cottage_food_guidance.pdf) Patricia Prade, Carey R. Minteer, James P. Cuda
The honey must be prepackaged (bottled or cut comb in containers) with a label affixed that contains the following information (printed in English):
The name and address of the cottage food operation. The beekeeper must list his/her name on the label. No fictitious names are permitted under the cottage food operation legislation. Business names are acceptable.
The full street address of the cottage food operation including zip code (post office box address does not qualify).
The name of the product. The single word "honey" is acceptable. Honey as defined by the Florida Standard of Identity for Honey (Rule: 5K-4.027) "means the natural food product resulting from the harvest of nectar by honey bees and the natural activities of the honey bees in processing nectar. It consists essentially of different sugars, predominately fructose and glucose as well as other substances such as organic acids, enzymes and solid particles derived from honey collection. The color of honey can vary from nearly colorless to dark brown. The consistency can be fluid, viscous or partially to completely crystallized. The flavor and aroma vary, but are derived from the plant's origin" (https://www.flrules.org/gateway/ruleNo.asp?id=5K-4.027).
The ingredients of the cottage food product, in descending order of predominance by weight. If honey contains any flavoring, spice or other added ingredient, then those additives must also appear on the label—for example, "lime essence honey." See Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Rule 5K-4.027 (4) Standard Identity for Honey (https://www.flrules.org/gateway/ruleno.asp?id=5K-4.027).
The net weight or net volume of the cottage food product. The contents of the product should be expressed in net weight or net volume. The statement must be displayed in the bottom 30% of the label. The words "net weight" may be abbreviated to "Net.Wt."
Allergen information as specified by federal labeling requirements. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires food labels to identify in plain English if the product contains any of the eight major food allergens—milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soybeans. The Act does not include honey, and honey is not listed as an allergen. However, honey has been associated with infant botulism and as such is considered a dietary risk for infants less than one year of age. It is recommended beekeepers display on their labels, "Do not feed to infants less than one year old." See the following document for more information: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/aa142.
The following statement must be in at least 10-point type in a color that provides a clear contrast to the background of the label: "Made in a cottage food operation that is not subject to Florida's food safety regulations."
The following is an example of the minimum information required on a cottage food product label for honey (except for the infant statement which is recommended but not mandatory):
Additional Cottage Food Labeling Information
Words to avoid: Avoid any nutritional claims or health related statements on the label (for example "healthy," "packed with energy," "low in fat," "good for allergies") because such statements would also require the cottage food to display a nutritional content label. There is no official standard for "raw" honey; however, it generally means that the honey has not been filtered or heated. When customers ask for raw honey, they want honey that has only been strained, so avoid labeling or selling honey as "raw" unless it will meet the customer's expectations. Never use the words "certified," "registered," or "inspected" on your honey label unless your product has actually been certified, registered, or inspected by an authorized entity. The word "organic" is not just an adjective, nor is it synonymous with "natural." If you wish to produce or handle agricultural products that can be sold, labeled, or represented as "100 percent organic," "organic," "made with organic ingredients," or "USDA Organic," you must be certified by an accredited certifying agent. More information on how to become certified can be found on the National Organic Program website (https://www.ams.usda.gov/about-ams/programs-offices/national-organic-program).
Optional words you may use: Words preceding the word "honey," such as "pure," "natural," or "all natural" are acceptable and reinforce the quality and purity of the product. Honey may also be designated according to floral or plant source (for instance, "orange blossom honey") if it comes predominately from that particular source and has the scientific properties corresponding with that origin. Beekeepers should avoid preceding the floral source with the word "pure" because bees do not exclusively use one floral source.
Additional Cottage Food Regulations
Gross sales of cottage foods are for all foods produced and sold, not just honey. For example, if you sell honey and jam under the cottage food law, the combined gross sales of these products cannot exceed $50,000 annually.
A cottage food operation must comply with all applicable county and municipal laws and ordinances regulating the preparation, processing, storage, and sale of cottage food products by a cottage food operation or from a person's residence. Check with local authorities and farmers' markets before selling to the public.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services may investigate any complaint that alleges that a cottage food operation has violated an applicable provision of this chapter or rule adopted under this chapter (Section 500.80 Florida Statutes http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0500-0599/0500/0500.html)
Only upon receipt of a complaint may the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' authorized officer or employee enter and inspect the premises of a cottage food operation to determine compliance with this chapter and FDACS rules as applicable. You may advertise and accept orders and payments online. However, you must deliver the cottage food product directly to the consumer. Thus, you may not sell online and then ship through the mail. However, you may sell honey online and then meet at a farmer's market for delivery.
Honey Processing Outside of the Cottage Food Industry
Honey processors whose gross sales exceed $50,000 annually and/or who sell their honey by internet, mail order, consignment or wholesale are not exempt under cottage food operations (Section 500.80 Florida Statutes).
These honey processors must be properly permitted by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and must bottle honey in a certified food establishment. Beekeepers owning a food establishment must apply for a Food Permit (see Retail Food Establishment Permitting Requirements: https://www.fdacs.gov/Business-Services/Food-Establishment-Inspections/Food-Establishment-Permit/Retail-Food-Establishment-Permit). The minimum construction standards for food establishments in Florida can be found here: https://www.fdacs.gov/content/download/64038/file/FOOD-ESTABLISHMENT-MINIMUM-CONSTRUCTION-STANDARDS.PDF. Beekeepers not owning a food establishment but wanting to lease, rent, or use a food establishment for bottling, must submit to FDACS a commissary letter of agreement certifying that the owner of the commissary gives permission to bottle on the premises. The premises will be inspected annually by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Honey must be stored on the commissary premises and not at private residences. Beekeepers selling their honey at a location other than the commissary are required to hold a Mobile Food Vendor license.
Free copies of these documents may be obtained from FDACS, Division of Food Safety by calling (800)-245-5520 or visiting their website (https://www.fdacs.gov/Divisions-Offices/Food-Safety).
Honey processors in this category are prohibited from displaying on their label, "Made in a cottage food operation that is not subject to Florida's food safety regulations."
Net quantity of contents on label must be expressed in both metric (grams, kilograms, milliliters, liters) and US Customary System (ounces, pounds, fluid ounces).
The following is an example of minimum requirements for labeling for honey processors selling wholesale, retail, mail order or internet sales and/or whose grosses exceed $50,000 annually (except for the infant statement, which is recommended but not mandatory):
Nutritional labeling is mandatory for most foods. Honey processors who must include a nutritional food label on their honey should refer to the United States Code (USC) of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Part 101. (https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?CFRPart=101). See also National Honey Board (https://www.honey.com/).
Products sold by companies qualifying for small business exemptions are one exception to the nutritional labeling requirement. Small-business exemptions are available for products sold in small volume (fewer than 100,000 units per year) and by small companies (fewer than 100 employees). To apply for the exemption, contact the Food and Drug Administration's Office of Food Labeling at 301-436-2371 or visit their website for the proper forms. If you are not an importer, have fewer than 10 full-time employees, and sell fewer than 10,000 total units, you do not have to file a notice of exemption. (https://www.fda.gov/food/guidanceregulation/guidancedocumentsregulatoryinformation/labelingnutrition/ucm053857.htm).
If you use certain descriptors such as "healthy" on your label, there must be a nutritional label on the product, even if the product is otherwise exempt. Whenever a nutrient content claim is made on a label, the claim must be accompanied by a "referral statement" directing the consumer to the panel on which the nutritional fact information is located (i.e., "See side panel for nutritional information").
Common Labeling Mistakes
The most common mistakes made in honey labeling (including cottage food operations and honey processing) are:
placing the net contents in the upper part of the label—it must be in the lower 30%;
using an improper "Net Weight" statement;
omitting a portion of the address, particularly the zip code;
claiming a "pure" flora source; and
improperly identifying a blended honey with a single floral source.
For further information regarding bottling, labeling, and selling of honey in Florida, contact the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, (850) 245-5520 (https://www.fdacs.gov/Divisions-Offices/Food-Safety) or read the FDACS guidance on Cottage Food Operations here: https://www.fdacs.gov/content/download/70108/file/Cottage-Food-Brochure.pdf. For further information on cottage foods legislation please visit FDACS, Division of Food Safety website. (https://www.fdacs.gov/Divisions-Offices/Food-Safety).