We provide this information as general legal information but not as legal advice.
The California Homemade Food Act (AB 1616) created a new category of food enterprise in California called a cottage food operation, which is the only type of food business that can use a home kitchen for processing food for sale to the public in California. 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 fruits.
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.
Confections such as salted caramel, fudge, marshmallow bars, chocolate covered marshmallow, nuts, and hard candy, or any
Buttercream frosting, buttercream icing, buttercream fondant, and gum paste that do not contain eggs, cream, or cream cheese.
Dried or Dehydrated vegetables.
Dried vegetarian-based soup mixes.
Vegetable and potato chips.
Marshmallows that do not contain eggs.
Other foods can be added to the list by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).
Requirements for a “cottage food operation”
- Register with your county environmental health department (a small fee may be required), including filling out a self-inspection checklist that includes basic safe food handling practices if you plan to only do 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 wholesale, ie selling to 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).
- Take 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. This course is available online for $15 or less. Cottage food operators must obtain this card within three months of beginning a cottage food operation.
- 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 Law
- Cottage food products can be sold directly to consumers anywhere in California provided that the cottage food operator obtains the proper registration or permit and follows the safe food handling requirements specified in the law.
- 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 environmental 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. The limit is currently $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: the Homemade Food Act does not provide any exemptions to employment laws. Cottage food operators who hire employees should understand how to comply with employment law.
- 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. Please see our other general food enterprise resources available to assist cottage food operations and other small food businesses navigate some of these laws.
Your local county department of environmental health should have additional information specific to your county (or city) regarding applying for permits, fees, registration forms, and questions about specific food items.
California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has a web page with information on cottage food here.