Do I need a license to sell homemade food in California?
Updated: Aug 9, 2023
Published: Aug 9, 2023
Have you ever dreamed of starting your own home-based food business in the Golden State? Thanks to the California Homemade Food Act, passionate home cooks and bakers like you can launch their businesses without the expense of a commercial kitchen. In this article, we’ll provide you with a comprehensive and detailed guide on how to obtain a cottage food permit and start a thriving food business in California.
What is a Cottage Food Permit?
A Cottage Food Permit, also known as a Cottage Food Operations (CFO) permit, is a type of license that allows individuals to prepare, package, and sell specific non-potentially hazardous foods from their homes. The Cottage Food Permit California was introduced under the California Homemade Food Act, signed into law in 2012, with the aim of supporting small-scale, home-based food entrepreneurs like yourself.
What you can sell with a Cottage Food Permit
Not all food items can be produced and sold under a Cottage Food Permit. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) maintains a list of approved food items, which includes:
- Baked goods (e.g., bread, cookies, cakes, pastries, and pies)
- Candy and confections (e.g., chocolate, fudge, and toffee)
- Dried fruits and vegetables
- Granola, cereal, and trail mixes
- Honey, jams, jellies, and preserves
- Nut mixes and nut butter
- Popcorn and popcorn balls
- Vinegar and mustard
- Roasted coffee and dried tea
- Waffle cones and pizelles
Keep in mind that the list may be updated, so always consult the CDPH website for the most recent information.
Types of Cottage Food Permits
There are two types of Cottage Food Permits in California: Class A and Class B.
Class A Cottage Food Permit
With a Class A permit, you are allowed to sell your products directly to customers, such as online or in person at farmer's markets and bake sales. No inspection of your home kitchen is required for this permit, but you must complete a self-certification checklist.
Class B Cottage Food Permit
A Class B permit allows you to sell your products directly to customers and through third-party retailers, such as grocery stores and restaurants. This permit requires an annual inspection of your home kitchen by the local health department.
How to Get a Cottage Food Permit in California
Here’s a step-by-step guide on on how to get your Cottage Food Permit in California:
1. Research and decide what food you plan to sell
Make sure the products you plan to sell fall under the list of approved food items by the CDPH.
2. Complete a food handler's course
You must complete a food handler's course approved by the CDPH within three months before or after registering your business. This course will teach you the essential food safety practices to maintain a clean and safe kitchen environment.
3. Develop a business plan (optional)
While developing a business plan isn’t mandatory to getting a Cottage Food Permit, it’s highly recommended for a good business. A well-thought-out business plan will help you focus on your goals and serve as a roadmap for your business success. Your business plan could include market analysis, marketing and sales strategies, and financial projections.
4. Obtain required permits and licenses
Depending on your local jurisdiction, you may need to obtain additional permits and licenses on top of your CFO permit, such as a business license from your local city or county, a seller's permit, or a fictitious business name registration.
5. Register your Cottage Food Operations
Register your CFO with the appropriate local environmental health agency, which will require you to submit an application and pay a fee. Ensure that you have all the necessary documentation, such as your food handler's certificate, business license, and any other required permits.
6. Prepare your home kitchen
Your home kitchen must comply with specific requirements, including proper sanitation, safe food handling practices, and appropriate storage. Some of these requirements include maintaining separate storage for business and personal use, proper labeling of food products, and access to handwashing facilities. Make sure to familiarize yourself with these requirements and make any necessary adjustments to your home kitchen before applying for your Cottage Food Permit.
7. Obtain your Cottage Food Permit
After completing the steps above, apply for a Class A or Class B Cottage Food Permit from your local environmental health agency. This process may include submitting an application, paying a fee, and undergoing a kitchen inspection if applicable.
8. Sell your food online
Once you have your Cottage Food Permit, it's time to start selling your products. The easiest way is to sell it online with FormPay, a simple ecommerce tool designed for cottage food businesses. With no setup or monthly fees, there’s no risk for you to use it right away. Whether you’re offering pickup or delivery, pre-packaged food, customized or made-to-order food, FormPay’s flexibility lets you sell the way you want. Cottage food sellers like G Sweets and Uncle Tim’s Delicacies turbo charged their business with FormPay’s easy-to-use tool for both sellers and their consumers.
Starting a home-based food business in California is a great opportunity for passionate cooks and bakers to share their creations with others while earning an income without the heavy lifting of opening an entire retail store. By following the steps outlined in this guide and complying with local regulations, you’ll be able to get a Cottage Food Permit successfully and launch your own home-based food business in no time online with a tool like FormPay and in-person at farmers’ markets. Remember to stay updated on any changes to the California Homemade Food Act and the list of approved food items to make sure your business stays compliant so you can continue to thrive!