It’s now legal to make and sell homemade food in California.


For a long time it was strictly illegal to sell homemade food in California.  Even the church bake-sale was illegal.  But as of January 2, 2013 AB 1616 The California Homemade Food Act  has made it legal to make food at home and even to sell food at home.  You can even sell what you cooked at farmers markets, over the internet, in retail stores and out of your home.

So how do you get started with your home made food business?

There are two regulatory hurdles that you need to deal with before you can set up shop.  First, you need to be legally zoned to do your home cooking or as the law refers to it Cottage Food Operations.  According to the law A city, county, or county and city shall not prohibit a cottage food operation … in any residential dwellings.  But it goes on to say that [granting] a permit must comply with local ordinances prescribing reasonable standards, restrictions, and requirements concerning spacing and concentration, traffic control, parking and noise control relating to those homes.  We believe this means that you will have the right to apply for a permit, but the city can deny you a permit if they can show it will cause problems.

Your city will be concerned about you turning your house into a factory or retail space.  The law was designed for small operations and even restricts the total amount of sales you can make.  ($35,000 in 2013, $45,000 in 2014, and $50,000 thereafter)  and you can have no more than one full time (non-family) employee.  (The term used is full time equivalent so you cannot hire a bunch of people part time)  You will have to get a permit from your city to get started.  Each city will have to determine how hard it will be for you to get going.

Regulations  In California, you will need approval from three different governments.  (1) your city (or county if you’re in an unincorporated area), (2) the State of California taxing authority, and (3) the Orange County Health Department.  Just because you have a permit from one doesn’t mean your good to go.  

You will need a City business permit, but you may also be required to get a conditional use permit (CUP) which would involve approval by the planning commission and notifying your neighbors about your plans to see if they object.  You will also need to get a resale permit from the State Board of Equalization.   This is basically automatic, it allows you the opportunity to pay in sales tax on your sales. See this page for contact info for your city’s planning department and the State Board of Equalization.

Health Permit for your Home Made Food

  • You will need to attend and pass a class on food handeling.  Anyone you are working with in the kitchen will also have to pass the class.  OCHealth has put up a link that lets you know where you can take the classes.
  • Food Operation packet  (This document and application tells you every thing you need to get started.)
  • Kitchen Inspection.  There are two classes of permits A and B.  If you will only sell out of your home, you do not need to get an inspection.  If you plan to sell

As they would for any other business, the OC Health Department charges you for their time.  Currently the hourly rate is $103/hour, and this is charged in 15min increments   So to get your packet reviewed it will cost about $80; and if your are selling through third parties (class B) you will need to have a home inspection they estimate this should not take more than 2 and 1/2 hours (about $256).   And if they should find cleanliness/food safety issues with your kitchen, you will be charged for another inspection.  The best strategy is to listen to what the inspector has to say and don’t argue with him/her.  Inspectors are just following the rules, which may be hard for people not in food business to understand.  It’s not about what you think is clean, it’s about following the rules.

According to the state of California, you will not need to have your kitchen certified if you will only do what they define as “direct sales” (calle Class A) to customers.  You will be able to get started by going through a checklist and self-certifying that you meet the requirements.  If you will sell you product through a third party, the Health Department will have come out and inspect your kitchen.  To summarize the requirements, your kitchen needs to be clean, free of insects, pets, and small children.  No smoking is allowed in your (home or just kitchen we’re not sure).  And you must clean your kitchen and equipment before preparing food.  You are not have to meet the requirements of a commercial kitchen such as signs telling employes they must wash their hands, ventilation hoods, fire suppression systems…

Labeling All of your products must include labels which state what’s in the food, your registration number, the name of your operation and the words “Made in a Home Kitchen.”  (This is explained in the operations packet put out by OC Health)

Another issue you will have to deal with is insurance.  If you are running a business out of your home, your homeowner’s or renter’s policy might not cover you.

So, what foods are you allowed to make.  Basically any ingredient that can go bad and cause food poisoning, such as cream and mayonnaise, are banned.  California has classified these foods as  Non-Potentially Hazardous  This is a list from the law:

  • 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 (These should be fruit products toassure that they are not potentially hazardous).
  • Nut mixes and nut butters
  • Popcorn
  • Vinegar and mustard
  • Roasted coffee and dried tea
  • Waffle cones and pretzels

Well, we are not exactly sure what dried mole paste is, but you will notice that the only “ethnic” food on the list is churros.  If you want to have your favorite food added to the list you will have to either convince the California Department of Public Health to put it on the list by showing that it’s non-hazardous or explain to OCHealth that ist’s the ethnic version of a food that’s on the list.

You will also have to take food processor course instructed by the California Department of Public Health.

FN1 Some information was obtained from this publication  You can read the text of the passed bill here

FN2  Selling at farmers markets or through third parties may require additional permits.

© 2012-2013