A popular TikTok creator’s recent run-in with U.S. health regulators over the safety of her homemade pickles has sparked a conversation about what kinds of homemade foods entrepreneurs can sell from home or online. 

University of Guelph food scientist Dr. Keith Warriner says the TikTok incident, which made headlines in the U.S., is a reminder that there are likely many home-based food businesses breaking food safety rules but “flying under the radar” of health regulators. 

Dr. Keith Warriner in a lab coat
Dr. Keith Warriner

Earlier this month, a TikToker named PickleMeEverything was ordered by California Department of Public Health to cease selling her pickled foods online, after fellow TikToker FoodScienceBabe noticed she was violating home canning safety rules as well as California law forbidding the sale of homemade pickles. 

Warriner says rules about home-based food businesses vary across Canada and the U.S. Most provinces allow the sale of homemade pickles, because they are at low risk of food-borne pathogens.

“It’s true that there is a botulism risk with canned foods and only those with experience or training should take this one. Pickling, however, is different. Provided the acidity is high, there will be no issue. It’s the low-acid canned products that ring alarm bells.”  

Low acidity in canned products can allow the Clostridium botulinum bacteria that cause botulism to grow and produce a paralytic and even fatal toxin, Warriner explained. Not sealing jars with thermal heat also increases spoilage risk, he said. 

As for the sale of other homemade foods, laws in both Canada and the U.S. allow small businesses to sell low-risk food items, such as breads and cookies, without a licence, so long as food safety requirements are met. 

Because oversight is challenging, the system depends on public complaints to public health authorities over vendors who may be breaking rules. 

Ontario recently relaxed its rules on the sale of homemade foods, exempting home-based businesses from certain regulatory requirements. 

“For high-risk products (i.e., those that can support microbial growth), there are provincial laws that need to be followed,” says Warriner. “But it’s likely some home business owners either aren’t aware or fly under the radar. “ 

Warriner is available for interviews. 

Dr. Keith Warriner