All across the United States, Americans are making food at home to sell in their communities. Together, they form a small but growing industry—the homemade or “cottage food” industry. The movement fits within a larger trend toward healthy eating and responsible sourcing, as consumers take greater interest in where their food comes from and who makes it. California has been a leader in the cottage food movement since the passage of the California Homemade Food Act in 2012. New laws passed in 2013, 2018 and 2021 have given cottage food producers expanded freedom. The most recent reforms raise the sales caps for cottage food producers and allow them to mail their products anywhere in California.
California is one of a handful of states that allow people to create and sell homemade meals, including those containing meat, under its Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations (MEHKO) law, which took effect in 2019. Unfortunately, the law only applies to cities and counties that expressly opt in and pass ordinances regulating microenterprise home kitchens. Otherwise, selling home-cooked meals remains illegal.
According to records obtained from county health departments, as of March 2022, there are at least 4,781 cottage food businesses and 144 microenterprise home kitchen operations active in California.
|Grades For Homemade Food Laws||Cottage Food Class A||Cottage Food Class B||Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations|
|Food Varieties Grade||D-||D-||B|
|Sales and Venue Restrictions Grade||B+||A||D+|
|Regulatory Burdens Grade||C-||F||F|
For more information about how the state was graded, see the Baking Bad report page.
California homemade food types
|Food Varieties||Cottage Food Class A||Cottage Food Class B||Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations|
|What Shelf-Stable Foods Can I Sell in California?||Food must be on a list approved by the Department of Public Health, but there is an application process to add additional products.||Food must be on a list approved by the Department of Public Health, but there is an application process to add additional products.||No restrictions, so long as food is sold the same day it’s made.|
|Can I Sell Refrigerated Baked Goods in California?||No||No||Yes, so long as the food is sold the same day it’s made.|
|Can I Sell Meat in California?||No||No||Yes, in meals.|
|Can I Sell Acidified or Pickled Foods in California?||No||No||No|
|Can I Sell Low-Acid Canned Goods in California?||No||No||No|
|Can I Sell Fermented Foods in California?||No||No||No|
Many states regulate “cottage food,” meaning food made in home kitchens for sale. California allows cottage food producers to sell “low-risk” foods that do not require temperature control for safety from a list approved by the Department of Public Health. Allowable items include most baked goods, candies, syrups, mustards, nut butters, pastries, preserves, caramel corn, honey, granola, candied apples, crackers, pretzels, and dried goods like cereals, coffee beans and fruit leather. California cottage food producers may not sell pickles, juices and products containing meat.
In cities and counties that permit microenterprise home kitchen operations, home cooks can sell meals that contain meat and are also free to use open-air barbecues and outdoor wood-burning stoves. However, all food must be “prepared, cooked, and served on the same day.” In addition, cottage food producers or MEHKOs are both banned from selling pickled or acidified food, raw oysters, and from manufacturing dairy products.
California homemade food venues
|Sales and Venue Restrictions||Cottage Food Class A||Cottage Food Class B||Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations|
|Annual Sales Cap||$75,000||$150,000||$50,000|
|Where Can I Sell Homemade Food Direct to Consumers in California?||No restrictions||No restrictions||Only from home, either as take-out or dine-in.|
|Can I Sell Homemade Food to Retail Outlets Like Restaurants and Grocery Stores?||No||Yes||No|
For cottage food, California has a two-tier system. The first tier (Class A) allows the sale of cottage foods directly to consumers at venues like farmers’ markets, festivals and home delivery. The second tier (Class B) allows third-party sales in retail outlets like restaurants and grocery stores. Prior to the passage of Assembly Bill 1144 in 2021, both tiers capped annual gross revenue at $50,000. The new caps are $75,000 for the first tier and $150,000 for the second tier. The new law also allows cottage food producers in both tiers to sell their products across county lines throughout California. Cottage food producers in both tiers may sell their products online and ship them to customers via mail and third-party vendors.
The law is significantly stricter for microenterprise home kitchen operations. Home cooks can only sell direct to consumers from home, either as take-out or dining in the home cook’s residence. In addition to the annual sales cap of $50,000, microenterprise home kitchen operations can sell no more than 30 meals a day or 60 meals a week. MEHKOs can only use third-party delivery systems if the buyer has a physical or mental disability.
Getting started in California
|Regulatory Burdens||Cottage Food Class A||Cottage Food Class B||Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations|
|Inspections Required Before Starting||No||Yes||Yes|
|Are Local Ordinances Preempted or Overridden?||No||No||No. Cities and counties must opt in to allow microenterprise home kitchen operations.|
|License, Permit or Registration Required||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Recipe Approval or Lab Testing Required||No||No||Yes|
|Food Handler Training Required||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Both California cottage food producers and microenterprise home kitchen operations must obtain a permit from their county health department. The first step is to complete a food processor course approved by the California Department of Public Health. To get a Class A permit, California cottage food producers must complete a self-certification checklist. No home inspection is required, except in the event of a consumer complaint or food-borne illness investigation. Permit fees vary by county, but typically range from $100 to $150 annually.
To get a Class B or MEHKO permit, Californians must pass an annual physical inspection. Permit fees vary by county, but typically range from $150 to $250 annually. Those with private water supplies and/or septic systems must provide additional documentation. Pets cannot be in the kitchen, while smoking is not allowed in the kitchen at any time. Both California cottage food producers and microenterprise home kitchen operations may have only one nonfamily employee.
Tell your California story
Is the government trying to crack down on your food business?
Do you own a food or drink-related business that is facing problems or is even under threat of shutdown because of burdensome laws and regulations?
Do you face excessive fines from the government if you don’t shut down your business, limit what you sell, or dig up your garden?
We might be able to help.
If you want IJ to review your case, please share your situation through the following form.
California cottage food labeling
California cottage food producers must package their foods at home with an attached label. Labels must include the business name and address, permit number, product name, ingredients, allergens, net weight, and the following statement in 12-point type: “Made in a Home Kitchen.”
California cottage food facts
Myths about cottage food abound. Here are the facts:
- Cottage food is safe. Critics who talk about the risk of food-borne illness give hypothetical examples of what could go wrong because real-world cases are rare or nonexistent.
- Cottage food is local. When neighbors trade with neighbors, money stays in the local economy.
- Cottage food is transparent. People who buy from a cottage food producer know what they get. If they have questions about ingredients, sourcing or safety, they can ask.
- Cottage food creates jobs. Results in California show the potential economic impact. California’s 2013 law legalizing cottage foods led to the creation of over 1,200 new businesses in just its first year.
- Cottage food empowers women. IJ cottage food research shows that most cottage food producers are women, and many live in rural areas with limited economic opportunity.
- Cottage food expands consumer choice. Some stores simply don’t sell what you want. This is especially true if you have a gluten-free, peanut-free, halal, kosher or vegan diet. Cottage food fills market gaps, giving consumers more options.
California cottage food resources
As part of its Food Freedom Initiative, the Institute for Justice provides a variety of resources for home bakers and other food entrepreneurs. These include:
- Model Food Freedom Act from the Institute for Justice guides activism efforts at state capitols nationwide.
- Flour Power: How Cottage Food Entrepreneurs Are Using Their Home Kitchens to Become Their Own Bosses surveys 775 cottage food producers in 22 states about what their businesses mean to them.
- Ready to Roll highlights nine lessons from the Institute for Justice’s cottage food victory in Wisconsin.
- The Attack on Food Freedom examines the impact of regulations on farmers, chefs, artisans, restaurateurs, food truck operators and others.
Support California legislation
Help expand cottage food laws in California by teaming with the Institute for Justice. Send an email with your name, background information and availability to get started…
Defending homemade food freedom nationwide
People have a right to earn an honest living without arbitrary and excessive government interference. Since 2013, the Institute for Justice has defended home bakers and chefs as part of its Food Freedom Initiative. Read about IJ’s nationwide food freedom advocacy…
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All information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Statutes, regulations, and processes are subject to change at any time, and specific facts and circumstances could alter how they are applied. If you have questions about the regulation of cottage foods in your jurisdiction, we recommend consulting a lawyer who can help you navigate the process.