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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 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.

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. 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

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

I live in a Hotel Suite w/ a full Kitchen, Can I obtain a permit to work from there. It is my permanent residence for at least for one year.

    Is it a commercial kitchen? If not, then you probably can’t use a shared kitchen for your CFO. But either way, you should contact your environmental health dept, explain your circumstance, and see if they will allow it. First, make sure that the hotel is okay with it.

I live in Marin County in California. I would like to cook and sell Indian vegetarian food with no meat(vegetable curry, wheat roti, lentils, rice..) from home to working people in Marin County. I will using fresh and frozen vegetables and Indian spices for cooking. It will be on request basis by phone. (ex: lunch box for one or two, dinner for two). All the items are cooked using stove top and microwave. No oven will be used for my cooking.

Can I be allowed to do it with CFO law?

I live directly across the street from an elementary school in San Bernardino California I’m looking to sell candy snacks fresh fruit and vegetables how would I go about the process

    If you want to sell food at the school, then you won’t be able to use the cottage food law. Schools have very strict requirements about where they can source food that is offered at the school. I’d recommend talking to the school’s food manager, and also talk to the health dept about this. You won’t be able to prepare the food in your home kitchen.

I didn’t see olives on the list, that mean salt cured (in a brine) Olives cant be sold to the public at a swap meet/ farmers market.? Are the rules different if you sale at swap meets vs. selling to people you know?

    You wouldn’t be able to sell olives unless you produced them in a commercial kitchen. You should be able to offer them at swap meets, since money isn’t trading hands.

I live in the city of Downey, CA which is considered a charter city. Not long after bill AB 1616 was passed, the city council held several meeting and eventually voted against the city being adopting AB1616, since the language in the bill doesn’t explicitly include “charter cities”. Is there any way for bill AB 1616 to be amended to include charter cities? If so, what is needed or what can I do to make this possible?

    I think another city tried doing this as well, but I don’t think there is any legal backing for it. The law clearly states “A city, county, or city and county shall not prohibit a cottage food operation…”. Since I believe that what they are doing is illegal, if I were living there, I would have no problem “illegally” starting my CFO there. I don’t see how they can penalize you for following the law more than they do.

    I think there have been some CFOs approved for beer mustards, but it depends on your county. You would also probably need to get some sort of license to sell alcohol, if there is a significant quantity in it. You should contact your environmental health dept.

I own and operate a farm with an onsite farm stand. Can I legally sell juice if it consumed on the property? Not bottles or packaged, but poured into a cup and consumed onsite?

    That wouldn’t fall under the cottage food law, and I’m not sure what the allowances for farms are. Try contacting your ag dept.

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