California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has a web page with information on cottage food operations here. Your local county department of environmental health should have additional information specific to your county (or city) regarding obtaining permits and registration forms. The information below is of general relevance throughout the state but each local agency may enforce the law slightly differently.
The law creates a new category of food production called a cottage food operation, which is the only type of food business that can use a home kitchen for processing food. The types of foods that a cottage food operation can sell are limited to “non-potentially hazardous foods,” which are foods that are unlikely to grow harmful bacteria or other toxic microorganisms at room temperature. The list of foods includes:
Baked goods without cream, custard, or meat ﬁllings, such as breads, biscuits, churros, cookies, pastries, and tortillas
Candy, such as brittle and toffee
Chocolate-covered nonperishable foods, such as nuts and dried fruit
Dry baking mixes
Fruit pies, fruit empanadas, and fruit tamales
Granola, cereals, and trail mixes
Herb blends and dried mole paste
Honey and sweet sorghum syrup
Jams, jellies, preserves, and fruit butter that comply with the standard described in Part 150 of Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations
Nut mixes and nut butters
Vinegar and mustard
Roasted coffee and dried tea
Wafﬂe cones and pizelles
Other foods that the Director of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) chooses to add
NOTE: CDPH has issued proposed additions to the list which may go into effect on May 7, 2014. Read CDPH's announcement here.
Requirements for a “cottage food operation”
Register with your county health department (a small fee may be required), including filling out a self-inspection checklist that includes basic safe food handling practices for direct-to-consumer sales (including at festivals and events, farmers’ markets, through CSAs, from your home, etc.).
Acquire a permit from your county health department that entails an annual inspection by a local health officer ONLY IF the cottage food operation will conduct indirect sales (meaning selling products through local shops, restaurants or other third parties that are not the producer or the consumer) and pay the permitting fee which varies by county (usually fees are annual).
Attend a class and pass an exam designed by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). Currently the generic food handler card (the card that employees working in all commercial food facilities in California must have) suffices to fulfill this requirement but CDPH may change the requirement in the future.
Package and label all food products with the name of the product, ingredients (in order of their prevalence by weight), a list of allergens, net weight of contents (if selling by weight), county of production and registration or permit number issued by the local county health department. The address of the cottage food operation also must be on the label unless the address is in the phone book.
Adhere to sanitary procedures outlined in the California Health and Safety Code, including washing, rinsing and sanitizing all surfaces and utensils before use in food preparation, washing hands before handling food, keeping all ingredients in sealed containers when not in use, and other such standard procedures.
Other Components of the Bill
Cottage food products can be sold directly to consumers anywhere in California provided that the cottage food operator obtains the proper registration or permit.
Indirect sales (eg sales through local shops, cafes and restaurants) are generally going to be limited to within the county where the food was produced, however, individual county health departments may choose to coordinate with one another and allow for indirect sales of cottage food products across county lines. If you want to sell indirectly in another county, contact that county's environmental health department to inquire about their policy.
Cottage food operations may not exceed a certain amount of gross annual revenue. In 2014 it will be $45,000 and in 2015 and following years it will be $50,000.
In addition to help from family or household members, cottage food operations may also have up to one full time equivalent employee. NOTE: all regular employment laws apply to cottage food operations.
There are different interpretations of the law regarding whether cottage food operators can mail products to consumers. See the Frequently Asked Questions page for more information.
While preparing homemade food products for sale, small children and pets may not be in the kitchen (they can be elsewhere in the house). Smoking, other non-commercial meal preparation, washing clothes and other such household activities may not take place in the kitchen while “cottage food” products are being made.
While cottage food operations are exempt from certain facility requirements in the California Health and Safety Code, cottage food operations are still generally subject to other laws affecting businesses, including tax, employment and other such laws. SELC has other general food enterprise resources available to assist cottage food operations and other small food businesses navigate many of these laws.