Avoid Getting Frosted Over Frosting

pink cupcake

You make the most awesome cakes and cupcakes ever! Now, you want to sell them. You want to get a cottage food  permit, but what about the frosting?  Did you know that most buttercream and cream cheese frostings will not be approved as they are not proven to be shelf stable?  What to do. . .

NOTE:  Also see updated information at end of post.

All foods made and sold under the Cottage Food Law AB1616 must be non-potentially hazardous meaning that they can be held at room temperature without growing harmful bacteria.  According to the FDA, this means foods that have an acidity (pH) level of 4.6 or less or a water activity (Aw) value of 0.85 or less.

If your recipe does not contain perishable ingredients, it may be allowed.  Many people claim that most American-style buttercreams made with butter or shortening and powdered sugar do not require refrigeration.  However, if you use butter, margarine, oil, cream cheese, etc. the San Diego Environmental Health Department may reject your recipe–or even your permit application–without proof that is non-potentially hazardous.

How can you be sure your frostings are safe and likely to be approved?

    1. Use a store-bought, commercially prepared frosting which has already been made shelf-stable.
    2. Use fondant only.
    3. Check out the updated California list of approved frostings and icings listed below.
    4. Have a sample of your frosting tested yourself.  In San Diego, several food testing laboratories can test your frosting for pH and water activity.  Tests run approximately $35-$45.

TexasCottageFoodLaw.com has recipes for several frostings.  The recipes were tested and shown to be non-potentially hazardous, but you MUST follow the directions exactly with no substitutions and would need to have whichever recipe(s) you want to use tested yourself.  Send the independent laboratory results into the San Diego Environmental Health department with your sample label or permit application.

Remember, all your ingredients must be included on the primary label of your product and the labels must be pre-approved by the Health department. If your frostings include any of the “suspect” ingredients, you will probably be required to get pre-approval from the state or have it tested to demonstrate that the frosting is non-potentially hazardous.

Use these tips to avoid getting “frosted” over your label, application, and recipes!


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    • Chelsea on August 17, 2013 at 4:59 pm
    • Reply

    I understand you can not bake and sell premade products with frosting and other hazardous foods, but would it still be acceptable to provide the option to buy cupcakes if they are made-to-order?

    1. If you have (or want) a Cottage Food Operators license to sell your food directly to customers or to stores, markets, cafes, etc., you will have to have your products (and sometimes recipes) approved by your county health department. It doesn’t matter if they are made fresh or held for weeks (or months depending on the product). If you are just making cupcakes now and then for friends who want to donate for your labor and ingredients, you don’t really NEED a CFO permit.

    • Jen L on September 23, 2013 at 1:00 pm
    • Reply

    I’m not finding a lab here in San Diego when I do a google search. Where might I find one that is local that will do both pH and water activity?

    1. Another CFO had good results with Ultimate Labs, based here in San Diego.

    • Jen L on September 27, 2013 at 10:31 am
    • Reply

    Another thing to note. I just spoke with Susan Strong. They do NOT have the authority to override the counties rulings. She cannot approve any recipes.

    Also the county is taking a stand they will NOT allow any challenge of any recipe with animal byproduct, ie butter, cream, milk, cream cheese. So having it tested is a mute point now.

    1. Apologies for delay on this comment. You can now file to have your food added to the state’s approved food list. Perhaps this will allow some frostings to be added!

    • ana on November 7, 2013 at 7:14 pm
    • Reply

    Can stabilized (by cooking method) frostings?

    • Jeff on January 4, 2014 at 2:40 pm
    • Reply

    So would Swiss Meringues be ok? Not butter-cream, but just egg whites and sugar over a double boiler and then whipped up?

    1. Good question! Not sure what category that would be in the approved Cottage Foods List… candy? You would have to ask the Health Department. Good news is that if they say no, you can request that Swiss Meringues be added to the CA CFO approved food list. See our post “Amending the Cottage Food list” First deadline has been extended to Jan. 31, 2014!

      • three50 bakes on June 20, 2014 at 7:55 am
      • Reply

      Jeff, did you end submitting swiss meringue for approval? Any word on the progress?

    • Stephanie on March 22, 2014 at 6:08 am
    • Reply

    Does anyone use pastry pride? What has been the approval for this product? Thank you.

    1. Not familiar with Pastry Pride. Might want to ask this on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/San-Diego-Cottage-Foods/478571155526458

      • anne on November 5, 2014 at 12:35 am
      • Reply


      I was just wondering if you ever found an answer to your question about Pastry Pride.

    2. Pastry Pride is now accepted by the San Diego Health Department

    • Jen on October 2, 2014 at 7:58 pm
    • Reply

    I’m confused, at the bottom of this article it says this “CA state health department recently amended the approved food list to allow “Buttercream frosting, buttercream icing, buttercream fondant, and gum paste that do not contain eggs, cream, or cream cheese.”

    If I make a recipe for buttercream frosting and use butter, vanilla and powdered sugar, is this okay now?

    1. It would seem so!

        • caleb on August 8, 2016 at 7:07 pm
        • Reply

        have you seen the vegan recipe for this floating around anywhere?

    • Jack wilson on August 25, 2015 at 2:45 am
    • Reply

    Another CFO had good results with Ultimate Labs, based here in San Diego.

    • Rebecca on May 21, 2016 at 6:36 am
    • Reply

    I have a Los Angeles permit . I am confused why there so many concerns about butter. Butter is considered a non-perishable food. As we all know you can keep butter out of the fridge and it will never spoil . Buttercream made with butter and sugar without milk was considered non-perishable when I applied three years ago.

    1. According to the California CFO Approved Foods list, “Buttercream frosting, buttercream icing, buttercream fondant, and gum paste
      that do NOT contain eggs, cream, or cream cheese” are acceptable.

  1. Not clear on if decision was made regarding Merengue type frostings where eggs are used but they are cooked first, does anyone know if they are acceptable?

    What about Merengue Powders? (Freeze dried egg whites and sugar) – you can make a merengue frosting with the powder but it is not the same although it is pasturized so it should be ok, but would be nice to know before i submit my labels. ;D

    1. No frostings may contain egg products in them, regardless of how they are prepared. We suggest checking our Facebook page for a post re. a vegan substitute recipe which can get approval.

    • Ginny on April 27, 2017 at 2:46 am
    • Reply

    Are frostings using pasteurized eggs acceptable?

    1. Sorry. No eggs. Period. Health departments are very strict with the approved list guidelines.

    • Melanie on May 3, 2017 at 9:28 am
    • Reply

    Can I use buttermilk as part of ingredient to my cupcake batter? Also if the frosting is white chocolate ganache with butter as a substitute to heavy cream as a thinning agent, would that be approved?

    • Mel on June 8, 2017 at 11:10 am
    • Reply

    How do I make a label for cupcake with white chocolate buttercream frosting? do i list all ingredients in one label? also im planning to use different food colors to decorate the cupcakes using the same buttercream. How do I submit labels for that?

    • Rosalea on May 18, 2019 at 10:24 am
    • Reply

    What is considered “cream” in the buttercream frosting? Is butter ok?

  2. Greetings! The updated link for the Texas Cottage Food Recipes is: https://texascottagefoodlaw.com/recipes

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