Frequently Asked Questions about the California Homemade Food Act
Important: This is only a summary of frequently asked questions and answers regarding the California Homemade Food Act which was enacted in September 2012. It should not be considered legal advice. Please consult an attorney if you have specific questions related to your business. Also, this information is specifically intended for San Diego County. Details and requirements may vary slightly in other California counties.
To download a copy of the full text of the bill AB1616 , click here.
When does the law go into effect?
The law went into effect on January 1, 2013. The San Diego County Environmental Health department and California Department of Public health are continuing to work on procedures to implement and enforce the law. Sign up for our newsletter to stay on top of breaking news and specific details as they are released.
What kinds of food can I make and sell from my home as a Cottage Food Operator?
Currently the following foods have been approved. Additional foods may be added by the County over time. At present, you can make and sell
- 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
- Herb blends and dried mole paste
- Honey and sweet sorghum syrup
- Jams, jellies, preserves, and fruit butter that comply with the standard described in Part 150 of Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations
- Nut mixes and nut butters
- Vinegar and mustard
- Roasted coffee and dried tea
- Wafﬂe cones and pizelles
What are jams, jellies, preserves, and fruit butter that comply with the standard described in Part 150 of Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations?
You can read the definitions of all these terms at this link.
What is a non-potentially hazardous food?
Non-potentially hazardous foods are foods which are unlikely to grow dangerous microorganisms when held at room temperature. Generally, they have a low water content (such as baked goods, candies, popcorn, etc.) or have a high acid or sugar level which inhibits bacterial and other growth (vinegars, honeys, mustards, etc.) Perishable foods (those that require refrigeration) require different permits from the San Diego Environmental Health department.
Do I have to get a permit from the Health Department?
Yes! There will be two types of permits available. Class A permits will allow you to sell your foods directly to consumers. Class B permits will allow you to also sell your products through others, such as stores or restaurants. Under the present law, you will only be able to sell wholesale (meaning others will retail them for you) within San Diego County, unless San Diego specifically approves cottage food sales across county lines in the future.
How much do permits cost?
Fees vary by county. Class A permits in San Diego County are $142 per year. Class B permits are $284 per year in San Diego County.
What are the requirements for a Class A or Class B permit?
Class A permit holders will need to fill out a county registration form and a “self-certification” form agreeing to certain health safety procedures during food preparation. Class A permit holders will not need to have their kitchens inspected. Class B permit holders need to complete the registration form AND a county health permit form. (See our post on getting through the permit process.) Class B permit holders will be subject to an initial inspection and annual routine kitchen inspections. All Cottage Food preparers and packagers will need to pass a food processor’s course within 3 months of getting registered. Currently, California recognizes several ASNI certified online courses for training. See list here. For our comparison of online options check Comparison of Online Trainings. San Diego also offers classroom options for those who cannot take classes online. For those classes, see page two on the listings here.
Do I need a food handler’s card if I already have one?
It depends. If your card is through one of the 3 hr. classroom sessions approved on this form, you probably do not. If it was taught by the manager of a food institution where you volunteered or worked, that card is only good for that location and you would need to take either an approved online or classroom course. See our post titled Best Value, Least Risk CFO training.
How many employees I can have?
Besides yourself as the cottage food Operator, you may have a family or household member and not more than one (1) full-time employee (who is paid or volunteers).
Is there a limit on how much I can make?
Yes. The operation cannot make more than $35,000 in gross annual sales in 2013 or more than $45,000 in total sales in 2014. The cap will be set at $50,000 in 2015 and thereafter. (Remember, gross sales include all the money earned from sales before subtracting expenses.) The legislature felt that when a cottage food operation was successful beyond those limits it had out-grown it’s “cottage industry” status and was ready for a more traditional business structure.
Can I have pets in my home?
Yes. However pets and small children are not allowed in the kitchen (or other room) when cottage food products are being prepared, handled, or packaged.
Can I smoke?
Smoking is not allowed around cottage food products, their ingredients or equipment when they are being prepared, handled, or packaged or stored.
Can I advertise?
Do I need a business license?
Yes. Where you get your business license will be determined by where you live. If you live in an incorporated city (i.e. Vista, Carlsbad, San Diego, Lemon Grove, Santee, Chula Vista, etc.) you will apply to your local city hall. If you live in an unincorporated area of the county, you will not need a business license. To see if you live in an unincorporated town or where you should apply, click here.
Do I need to file a fictitious business name?
You may also need to register a fictitious business name if your business does not have your last name (surname) and indicate what you do. For instance “Tom Jones Bakery” would not need to file a fictitious business name, but “Tom’s Bakery” or “Tom Jones’ Goodies” would need to file for a fictitious business name. For information in San Diego county, click here. You can check online to see if anyone else in San Diego county is using the name you would like. (Note: Filing a fictitious business name does not grant exclusive use of the name.) It is recommended that you file in person at any of the county offices. Filing is valid for five (5) years.
What is liability insurance? Do I have to have liability insurance?
Liability insurance protects your assets in case you are sued as a result of damage or illness caused by your cottage food operation. It is not required by law. However, it is strongly recommended that your business have liability insurance to protect your personal assets. Home-based businesses are generally not covered by standard homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. Some establishments (farmer’s markets, retail stores, etc.) may require you to have liability insurance. This will be discussed in a future blog.
Do I have to pay income tax on money I earn from my cottage food business?
Yes. You should consult with a tax professional for more details. There may be certain tax advantages to having a home-based business.
Do I have to charge sales tax?
In general, food in California is not taxed. But, if food is served warm and meant to be consumed on premises it IS taxable. If you sell your cottage food directly and most people eat it there (whether it is your home or at a booth at an event), you will need to collect sales tax. Otherwise, your cottage foods are generally free from sales tax. For more details, consult an attorney or see this California sales tax guide: http://www.boe.ca.gov/pdf/pub22.pdf
Does local zoning still apply?
Yes. You should check with your local zoning or planning department to see if there are laws or regulations for home-based businesses. If there are, you may need to get a permit from the city to operate a business from your home, but the city or county cannot deny you a permit as long as your cottage food business complies with rules regarding noise, traffic, or other such concerns that may apply to a home-based business.
Where can I sell my products?
You can sell directly to customers from your home (providing it does not violate local restrictions), at farmers’ markets or community events, and (with the Type B permit) through restaurants, stores or other retail outlets. Currently, third-party retailers will also have to be in San Diego County, though the county may allow sale in other counties in the future. Most farmer’s markets and event organizers will have their own policies related to sale of certain foods. Internet advertising can be done and sales made, but product must be delivered in person.
(Note: If you want to sell at a community event [including a farmer's market] you will need to get a Temporary Food Facility vendor permit from San Diego Department of Environmental Health. Click here for more information.)
What do I need to include on the label?
The common name of the product and all of the ingredients must be listed on your label, including ingredients of ingredients. In other words, if you use peanut butter as an ingredient, you must list its ingredients. This can be done by putting them in parentheses immediately after the ingredient. For example “Ingredients: popcorn, peanut butter (peanuts, oil, salt)” Ingredients should be listed in order of the greatest amount (by weight) to the least amount used.
The label also must include:
- the name of the cottage food operation,
- the permit number and class (A or B)*,
- the words “Made in a Home Kitchen” in 12-point type on the product’s primary label,
- a list of allergens,
- the net weight of contents, and
- where the product was produced.
*Foods produced under Class B permits must also note the name of the county agency which issued the permit.
SDCDEH provides CFO Labeling Requirements on their website.
See our post on Labels: Do Say, Don’t Say
I have more questions. Many more questions. Whom do I contact?
Contact San Diego County Department of Environmental Health with specific questions at (800) 253-9933. Read the FAQs posted by SDCDEH. State and county health departments are working on preparing the forms, instructions, and guidelines necessary to implement the new law. Also, you can get our free e-newsletter or sign up for San Diego Cottage Foods blog to keep up with new information.
If you have questions that you think we might be able to answer or questions or comments about San Diego Cottage Foods blog or website, please email info@SDCottageFoods.com Remember, information on this site is intended only for cottage food operators in San Diego County. While some information may be applicable statewide, you should consult your local Department of Environmental Health if you are outside of San Diego County.
Additionally, this FAQ is not in any way legal advice. We do not provide legal advice directly or through the FAQ, blog, or other communications. You should consult an attorney for specific legal questions.