Ontario relaxes rules around home-based food businesses

Now, foods deemed "low-risk" like baked goods and preserves are exempt from some regulations and certifications

There’s been an explosion of home-based food businesses in Ontario and beyond since the pandemic started. Search Facebook Marketplace and Instagram and you can find all sorts of people selling all sorts of cuisines, sometimes even regional dishes unavailable in Toronto’s diverse food scene.

But those food businesses are often operating in a black or grey market zone that circumvents Ontario’s rather strict health and safety regulations. The rules were essentially the same for a commercial restaurant as someone baking sourdough bread in their apartment.

Ontario just eased those regulations for home-based food businesses. The province lays it out in the appropriately titled Guide To Starting a Home-Based Food Business, which kicked in on January 1, 2021.

“For many local entrepreneurs, they start with a love of food and a cherished family recipe, whether it’s grandma’s apple pie or that new take on homegrown pickles, jams and preserves, and try and turn their passion into a successful business,” said Prabmeet Sarkaria, Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction, in a press release. “Our government applauds them for their vision and effort and we are doing everything we can to help them seize new opportunities without compromising Ontario’s high standards for food safety.”

The new changes make it easier for entrepreneurs to sell foods the province deem “low-risk.” Those are classified as non-hazardous and don’t require time or temperature control. Some of the examples include: breads and buns (without fillings or meats, etc), most baked goods (no custard), chocolate, hard candies, pickles, jams, preserves, granola, trail mix, nuts, seeds, cakes, brownies, muffins and cookies (unless the icing requires refrigeration) and coffee beans and tea leaves.

Those low-risk food businesses are now exempt from certain regulatory requirements: specified hand-washing stations (separate from the main sink), commercial dishwashing requirements and food handling training certification.

Implied in the celebratory press quotes about opening the doors for low-risk food operations is the fact that other food businesses do need to adhere to those food safety requirements. Could a crackdown be coming?

The document does specify that all food premises must adhere to the Health Protection and Promotion Act (HPPA) and the Food Premises Regulation, as well as periodic inspections by their local public health unit.

Otherwise, have at it.


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2 responses to “Ontario relaxes rules around home-based food businesses”

  1. Regarding the article “Ontario relaxes rules around home-based food businesses” by Richard Trapunski, some points should be clarified. First the rules still are essentially the same for a commercial restaurant as someone baking sourdough bread in their apartment
    Low risk foods have the same exemptions whether produced in a home vs. a commercial kitchen. That’s right, that bakery making only cookies technically doesn’t need a separate hand sink either.A two compartment sink is good for doing it all. Also, the legislation was also updated and relaxed back in 2018 (see O.Reg. 493/17). The provincial guide to home based food premises is simply a (partial) reiteration of the requirement that are specific to home-based food businesses. Unfortunately most of the home based food operators don’t call for inspection and often don’t understand the difference between low and high risk food. For example, any custards or raw cookie dough require refrigeration. Some might think a cookie dough without eggs is fine but is still high risk due to the flour component and inhetent risk of contamination with E. coli from the source. Home businesses often have pets and hide them for the purposes of inspection. Health Units also don’t have resources to troll the websites for illegal sales and probably wouldn’t have resources to inspect all that are out there, especially those that pop up for limited duration to make a few bucks during the holidays. So buyer beware. Be sure to check inspection results first before buying!!! If they’re not listed with the local Health Unit they haven’t been inspected…

    • Thank you for clarifying, Theresa. When a home business fills the application at the local authorities to start operations, don’t they get inspected? Is that not part of the process?

      I appreciate your reply.

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