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The California Homemade Food Act (also known as “AB 1616”) passed in California on September 21st, 2012 and went into effect on January 1st, 2013.

The law is setup as a two-tier system, meaning that there are different levels of homemade food producers, depending on who they sell to. “Class A” cottage food operations can only sell directly to consumers, but “Class B” operations can make direct and indirect sales. Indirect sales mean goods can be sold through third-parties, like stores or restaurants, but class B permits require a home inspection and cost more.

California’s law allows a number of food items to be sold, and unlike other states, it also gives the health department the authority to add to it over time. Operators can also sell their food products in almost any kind of venue, but they are limited to $50,000 of sales. Interestingly, that limit has increased over time (it was $35,000 in 2013, and $45,000 in 2014), but it will not automatically increase again. Another unique thing about California’s law is that it allows cottage food operations to have only one non-family employee.

The latest bill (AB 1252) has gone into effect that makes minor amendments to the cottage food law. Most notably, it clarifies that Class A & B operations can do direct sales anywhere within the state, rather than just their own county (Class B can still only do indirect sales within their counties and others that allow it). Also, Class A operations are now required to list their county on their label.


There are two classes of cottage food operations:

A “Class A” cottage food operation is only allowed to sell directly to the consumer, which includes sales from the operation, a farmers market, a food stand, special events, or other similar venues.  Direct sales may occur over the internet or phone with delivery or pickup options, but in most counties, a shipping service may not be used (USPS, FedEx, etc).  A few counties do allow shipping, like Placer County.

A “Class B” cottage food operation is allowed to sell both directly and indirectly to consumers.  In addition to the info about direct sales above, these operations can sell their goods to a third-party retailer, and that retailer can then sell the goods to the consumer.  A third-party retailer is one in which the food may be immediately consumed on the premises, such as a grocery store, bake shop, or restaurant.  In fact, a restaurant may buy cottage foods and use them in their dishes, as long as they inform the consumer on their menu that they are doing so.

Class B operations cannot do indirect intercounty sales, unless the health departments in their home county and the other county come to an agreement. Even though the sales are indirect, these operators also cannot use a shipping service to ship their products to retail stores (except for a few counties).

All CFOs must have a copy of their registration or permit on-site at the time of all sales (including indirect sales).

Allowed Foods

Jams, jellies, preserves and fruit butters must be made in compliance with the Federal Food Code (this resource does a good job of explaining it). It’s a complicated set of rules, but basically questionable items are those without enough sugar or acidity to make them safe. Many labs can test products for a small fee to determine their safety.

Marshmallows cannot contain eggs.

Here is the official approved foods list. On May 7th and August 1st of 2014, and on January 2nd and July 1st of 2015, some items were added to the list.

If you want something added to the approved foods list, you can submit a request.

Only "non-potentially hazardous" foods are allowed, but certain non-PHFs may not be allowed. Most foods that don't need to be refrigerated (foods without meat, cheese, etc.) are considered non-potentially hazardous. Learn more


Sales are limited to $50,000 per year


Registration or permit from local health department

To apply, an operation needs to contact their county’s environmental health department.

Class A CFOs need to register by submitting an application and completing a self-certification checklist. The registration fee varies by health department ($100 – $150 in most counties) and it must be renewed annually.

Class B operations get a permit for direct and indirect sales. The permit fee varies by health department ($150 – $250 in most counties) and it must be renewed annually.

Food handler card

All cottage food operators and their employees must complete a food processor course within three months of the operation becoming registered. Getting a food handler card can be done online in a few hours, and it should cost $10 – $15. Here is a list of ANSI-accredited courses that the CDPH recommends. Also, be sure to check their CFO training document for the most up-to-date information. Training must be completed every three years.

Home inspection

Class B CFOs need to get their home kitchen inspected.

Private well testing

If the operation gets their water from a private well, they must get their water tested, which would incur additional fees.

Private sewage inspection

If the operation has a private sewage system, they must get it inspected, which would incur additional fees.

Sample labels

Some counties require operators to submit only one sample label, while others require a sample label for each product produced. In most counties, if a small change needs to made to the application within the year, the department should be notified with the new information, but it will not incur another application fee. However, if the operator, location, or class type changes, a new application and fee will be necessary. Unfortunately, some counties charge the entire application fee if any products are later added.


Sample Label

Chocolate Chip Cookies

"Made in a Home Kitchen" (12-point type)

Forrager Cookie Company

123 Chewy Way, Cookietown, CA 73531

Permit #: 12345

Issued in Cotton County

Ingredients: enriched flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), butter (cream, salt), semi-sweet chocolate (sugar, chocolate, cocoa butter, milkfat, soy lecithin, natural flavors), brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, vanilla extract (vanilla bean extract, alcohol, sugar), baking soda, salt (salt, calcium silicate)

Contains: milk, eggs, wheat, soy

NET WT 2 lb 4 oz (1.02 kg)

Labels also need to include the operation’s registration/permit number, plus the name of the county that issued their permit.

The net weight must be listed in both English and metric units.  If the label makes any health claims, a nutrition facts panel is required.  Placing a phone number or email address on the label is optional.

If the operation is listed in a current telephone directory, then the street address does not need to be on the label (but the city, state, and zip code still do).

There is more information about labeling, including allergen and health claim instructions, in the Cottage Food Labeling Guide.


In addition to getting help from the members or your household, an operator can only have the equivalent of one full-time employee, regardless of whether they are paid or not.

More information about workplace requirements can be found in the health department’s sanitation guide.


Law Dates
January 2013
AB 1616
January 2014
AB 1252
This page was last updated on


Thanks – this is a very useful article. From what I’m seeing, it looks like vinegar-based hot sauces would be a permitted food under the guidelines. Is that right?

    I don’t think there are any specific rules. I think almost any dried herb, or combination of herbs, can be sold.

As a CFO person I have struggled to find a market to sell at. Most markets are operated by big associations who do not allow CFO vendors, they require their food vendors to use a commercial kitchen. So as wonderful as it could be it is rather frustrating. Help please!

    I know it can be frustrating, depending on the part of CA you live in. Even if a farmers market does allow CFOs, often the wait list to get into a market can be multiple years long. However, there are many farmers markets that do allow CFOs, but you might need to travel a little bit. Also, with summer approaching, there are usually a lot of smaller (or bigger, sometimes) annual events that you can participate in. My suggestion would be to talk to farmers market vendors and see what other venues they know of.

What are the rules on using the garage as an area to bake in? We’ve acquired two large commercial grade ovens and would like to bake bread in them. I know baking in outdoor ovens is permitted, but anyone know about requirements for garages? (assuming sanitation and containment practices are observed).

    I believe that a garage can be considered part of your “kitchen”. I think your environmental health dept will let you use the garage space, as well as the ovens.

Hi i want cook some iranian traditional food in my home and sell them .of course my recipe is completely healthy and new . i use fresh vegetable and rice and meat ,chicken … i buy every morning and then cook them i dont have pet and no smok
can i be allowed to do it with your low?

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