Wednesday, June 7, 2023

If you’re buying food from a home business, how do you know it’s safe?

(WYDaily file/Courtesy of Pixabay)
(WYDaily file/Courtesy of Pixabay)

Home-based businesses are popping up all over the Historic Triangle, but some of them have different regulations than others—ones that can impact your health.

While some businesses might deal with finance or create vinyl stickers, there are a number that are making and selling food products right from their home.

When going to a restaurant guests can enjoy their food knowing the health and safety regulations behind them, but when something is produced in the home localities also have to make sure their products are safe.

All home-based businesses first have to receive a business license from the Commissioner of Revenue, but businesses that sell food are subject to stricter Virginia Food Laws, said Laura Messer, tourism and marketing coordinator for the James City County Office of Economic Development.

Some of those laws address general home concerns, such as having pets near food products or the sleeping arrangements in regards to food storage and productions, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Related story: Home-based businesses are creating a booming economy in York County

In Virginia, those businesses are subject to periodic inspections and required to pay an annual $40 fee. Inspections are done by food safety specialists from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, according to the department’s website. Specialists look for any evidence of unsanitary conditions, mislabeling or mishandling of products. The inspections can be unannounced and specialists can request samples of an owner’s product.

The state has started to recognize this as a growing industry in the past decade, even creating an amendment in state code in 2013 that expanded the types of prepared foods people can make and sell from their homes without inspection from the state. These include low-risk foods, such as pickles and other acidified vegetables like salsa, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

However, Virginia does place a limit on the amount of acidified products that can be sold at $3,000 gross annual sales, according to state code.

Even with those food being legally exempt from inspection, they still have a likelihood of food-borne illnesses when not prepared properly. The state lists various recommendations for preventing food from becoming contaminated.

In James City County there are 1,110 home-based businesses and 18 of those are involved in food preparation, said Karen Killian, business tax auditor for the county. While Killian said many of these are food trucks and caterers, there are still those that are making and providing food from their homes.

When the county receives an application for a home-based business, Zoning Enforcement typically will follow up with the Virginia Department of Health or the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

In York County the Virginia Department of Agriculture regulates the food portion of permitting, said Melissa Davidson, assistant director of economic development for the county.

In Williamsburg, all home-based businesses have to meet certain criteria, such as ensuring the business does not generate unreasonable traffic or does not alter the appearance of a residence.

If a business meets the criteria then they would visit the city’s planning department and the Commissioner of Revenue for a business license.

To learn more about opening a business from home, visit the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services online.

Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at

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