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, which will take effect on Jan. 1, 2022, will raise the sales caps for cottage food producers and allow them to mail their products anywhere in California.
California cottage food types
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. 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. However, California has a Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations law that allows people to create and sell homemade meals, including those containing meat (see below for details).
California cottage food venues
California has a two-tier cottage food 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.
Getting started in California
California cottage food producers 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 permit, California cottage food producers must pass an annual physical inspection. Permit fees vary by county, but typically range from $150 to $250 annually. California cottage food producers with private water supplies and/or septic systems must provide additional documentation. Pets cannot be in the kitchen during cottage food preparation. Smoking is not allowed in the kitchen at any time. And California cottage food producers may have only one nonfamily employee.
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 Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations
California also has a Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations law, passed in 2018, that allows people to create and sell homemade meals, including those that contain meat. Unfortunately, the Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations law applies only to cities and counties that expressly opt in and pass ordinances regulating microenterprise home kitchens. Otherwise, selling home-cooked meals remains illegal. The COOK Alliance, which lobbied for the bill, maintains a spreadsheet with up-to-date information about local jurisdictions.
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.
Tell your California story
Is government violating your homemade food freedom in California? Do you have a potential case for IJ? Get started here…
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.