Cottage Food Law 101 ~ Cooking Up Business From Your Farm or Home Kitchen


Are you a farmer wanting to produce value-added items? Are you a food entrepreneur looking to expand your business? If you are, listen up! This past year, farmers and food entrepreneurs across CA rejoiced in the new Homemade Food Act (also known as the Cottage Food Act).

The first of its kind in the state, this law has opened the doors for many home cooks and farm businesses looking to expand into value-added products, to use their talents and often abundant harvest, to earn extra money and access new markets.

The law allows producers to sell their goods at farmers markets, in online stores, to wholesalers, in community supported agriculture (CSA) shares, and elsewhere. Without many of the restrictions that govern larger producers, this law aims to stimulate small-scale enterprise development and local economies, without requiring commercial kitchen space or lengthy zoning and regulatory measures!

However, it’s not just a free for all! There are still guidelines and limitations to what and how something is produced. Here at FarmsReach, we created a quick and easy info sheet on the basics of starting a Cottage Food Operation. The following are some highlights. For full details, visit our Cottage Food Law 101 Info Sheet in the Marketing & Sales Toolkit.

What is a Cottage Food Operation (CFO)?

A CFO refers to individuals preparing and packaging food products in a private home for sale to consumers. There can be no more than the equivalent of one full-time employee in a CFO. The food products must not require refrigeration – they must be “non-potentially hazardous”.

What kinds of food can I sell in my CFO?

DSCN1077The following types of food are approved for CFOs. In general, they have low water content and/or high acid levels to inhibit the growth of microorganisms.

  • 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
  • Dried fruit
  • Dried pasta
  • Dry baking mixes
  • Fruit pies, fruit empanadas, and fruit tamales
  • Granola, cereals, and trail mixes
  • Jams, jellies, preserves, and fruit butter that comply with the standard described in the FDA Code of Federal Regulations.
  • And this list goes on!  See more foods in the Cottage Food Law 101 Info Sheet.

Do I have to register or get a permit from my local Health Department?

You must register your CFO before starting operations. There are two CFO producer classifications:

  • Class A:
    Sell directly to customers, from the CFO location or from other “direct sale venues”, such as farmers markets, bake sales, etc.
  • Class B:
    Sell directly and/or indirectly to customers, from the CFO location, “direct sale venues”, or third-party retail facilities, such as restaurants, markets, etc.
  • Learn more about the registration process in the Cottage Food Law 101 Info Sheet.

Check with your local city or county planning department regarding some possible zoning restrictions, and the Board of Equalization regarding possible sellers permits and business licenses.

Do I have to take food handler’s training if I operate under the new cottage food law?

At some point, the California Department of Public Health will create a special food training course for CFOs. In the meantime, they will accept an approved food handling course to meet the CFO registration requirements.

You must submit proof that you have completed an approved course within 3 months of your CFO registration. Courses are available online, and often 90 minutes (no more than 4 hours). Cost ranges by provider, usually $10-$15.

Where can I sell my products?

You can advertise and process CFO orders on the internet or by phone, but you must deliver in-person to the customer or third-party retail facility. It is prohibited to deliver products through any mail carrier, especially out of state.

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What kind of information needs to go on my label?

CFO products must have labels with legible wording in English. (Accurately translated information in another language may also be included).

NOTE: The following requirements do not apply to a permitted retail food facility (such as a restaurant or market) serving CFO products without packaging or labeling. In these cases, the product must be identified to the customer as homemade on the menu, menu board, or in another easily accessible location.

Labels must contain the following:

  • “Made in a Home Kitchen” in 12-point type.
  • Product name.
  • CFO name city, state and zip code. If the CFO is not listed in a current telephone directory, a street address must also be stated.
  • A phone number and email address are helpful, but not required.
  • CFO registration or permit number
  • For Class B CFOs, the county where the permit was issued is required.
  • Ingredients in descending order of predominance by weight.
  • Net quantity (count, weight, or volume) in both English (pound) units and metric units (grams).
  • A declaration if the product contains any of eight major food allergens, either within the ingredient list or adjacent to the ingredient list. See a list of allergens in the Cottage Food Law 101 Info Sheet.

If making nutrient or health claims regarding any of the following concepts, the label must contain a “Nutrition Facts” statement on the information panel. (Refer to the Cottage Food Labeling Guideline for more details.)

  • “free”, “low”, “reduced”, “fewer”, “high”, “less”, “more”, “lean”, “extra lean”, “good source”, and “light”.
  • The relationship between a food component and a disease or health-related condition (e.g., sodium and hypertension, calcium and osteoporosis).

Required Inspections:

For Class A CFOs, kitchen and storage area inspections are only conducted in the event of a consumer complaint or reported food-borne illness.

For Class B CFOs, kitchen and storage area inspections are conducted annually, and in the event of a consumer complaint or reported food-borne illness.

Do I need to carry insurance?

You are not required to carry liability insurance, but you may want to insure your personal belongings in your home. Note: Many homeowner insurance policies will not extend liability coverage to liabilities arising out of home-based businesses. Check with your homeowner insurance company or your landlord if you are operating out of a rental property.

Have more questions? Read our entire Cottage Food Law 101 Info Sheet here!

To learn more about direct and wholesale marketing and sales, PR and more, check out our Marketing & Sales Toolkit!  Here you’ll find info sheets, checklists, worksheets and recommended resources to help you develop a marketing/sales strategy and increase your bottom line!

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