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.
California Cottage Food Laws
Many states regulate “cottage food,” meaning food made in home kitchens for sale. California has a two-tier system for cottage food. The first tier allows the sale of certain types of cottage foods directly to consumers, while the second tier allows sales in retail outlets like grocery stores. Both tiers allow online sales to buyers within the state, and both tiers include a $50,000 cap on annual gross revenue. Cottage food producers may sell breads, candies, condiments, pastries, preserves, dry goods and many types of snacks. They may not sell pickles, juices and products containing meat. Cottage food businesses may have only one nonfamily employee. The Forrager Cottage Food Community provides additional details on California cottage food guidelines…
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. Just two counties—Imperial and Riverside—had opted in and issued permits as of spring 2021. A third county, Lake, had started a six-month trial period. Another four counties and the city of Berkeley had opted in but not issued any permits, according to the COOK Alliance, which lobbied for the bill.
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.