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.
A new law (AB 626) passed in 2018, which allows for some “microenterprise home kitchen operations” to sell virtually any kind of food, albeit with plenty of other restrictions. However, home cooks cannot have both a cottage food operation (described on this page) and a microenterprise home kitchen operation — they need to decide on one or the other.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Class B CFOs need to get their home kitchen inspected.
If the operation gets their water from a private well, they must get their water tested, which would incur additional fees.
If the operation has a private sewage system, they must get it inspected, which would incur additional fees.
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.
CalGOLD is a website that lists all of the licenses/permit that a business needs in California. To find the licenses you need, click here to open CalGOLD and enter your county (the Business Type should be pre-filled with “Cottage Food Operation”). You may have to contact your zoning office to determine if you are within city limits or in an unincorporated area of your county.
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.