Skip to main content

California

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 most 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.

An amendment (AB 1252) passed in 2013, which made minor amendments to the cottage food law. Most notably, it allowed all Class A & B operations to do direct sales anywhere within the state, rather than just their own county. It also required Class A operations to list their county on product labels.

Selling

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. Some items have been added to the list over the years:

  • May 7, 2014: cotton candy, candied apples, confections, buttercream frostings, dried vegetables, dried vegetarian soup mixes, vegetable and potato chips, ground chocolate
  • August 1, 2014: seasoning salt
  • January 2, 2015: flat icing, marshmallows, popcorn balls
  • July 1, 2015: donuts, waffles, dried grain mixes
  • July 1, 2016: dried hot chocolate

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

Limitations

Sales are limited to $50,000 per year

Business

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.

Labeling

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.

Workplace

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.

Resources

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

Comments

In your expert experience, what baked goods are practically approved in California. Although I haven’t filled out paperwork, I’ve been in a question and answer communication with our county’s environmental department. But my favorite baking item gets shot down. For example cinnamon rolls can’t have cream cheese glaze (only buttercream or icing only) and cream puff shells are approved but I use pastry pride/frostin pride which I thought would be ok as its a non dairy liquid one just whips up like heavy whipping and it’s shelf stable. What can you suggest I start off with? I hope ro sell at farmers markets, church fairs, or similar. Basically baked goods ppl can walk by and nosh while shopping.

    There are so many types of approved baked goods, it would be impossible to list them all. I think I’ve heard of everything and someone else asks about a whole different type of food I’ve never heard before. But the truth is that the only real answer is the list that your county’s environmental health dept can produce. Every county is different and Santa Clara is probably the most strict. I’d say that in general, if it’s not explicitly listed on the approved list that the CDPH has compiled, then it has a chance of not being approved.

    There are a number of shelf stable items that never made it onto the allowed food list. I know that kombucha was on the list in the very early stages of the initial bill, but then it got removed during the legislative session. I’m not sure of the exact reason, but I don’t believe any kind of drink is allowed as a cottage food in CA.

    I’ve been doing a ton of digging and trying to get ahold of anyone at the environmental health department regarding selling kombucha at the farmers market. My concern is not the access to a commercial kitchen or a commercial license but more in the lines of the potential alcohol content. Do you have any insight? San Diego County is the worst in getting a response!

    You could try contacting the farmers market manager and seeing if they have any info or connections. Have you tried contacting the health dept via email as well as phone? It’s possible that you’ll need an additional license to sell alcohol, but I’m not sure. I’d say just try to go ahead with getting the license and kitchen for selling the kombucha, and the alcohol license should get addressed somewhere along the way.

    I doubt it, since Santa Clara county’s environmental health dept is the most strict in the state, but it doesn’t hurt to ask them. I don’t think they allow anything that isn’t specifically on the allowed foods list.

    Hi Marleine, I asked the same question with Santa Clara county environmental department and pastry pride is not approved, even though it’s non dairy and shelf stable. They linked me to a form to submit to Sacramento to seek approval to add to list. Hope this helps as we are from same county :)

    If you want to label your products as organic, there’s a very complicated and expensive certification process you’d need to go through. Instead, I’d recommend not labeling your product as organic, and just verbally tell people which ingredients in your product are organic. http://forrager.com/faq/#organic

or comment as a guest
* required (your email will not be displayed on the site)
Allowed tags