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The new California Homemade Food Act

Value-added product
Adapted from the Sustainable Economics Law Center

The new California Homemade Food Act, AB 1616 provides new, but limited, opportunities for production of value added farm products in home kitchens. The opportunity hinges upon several food safety criteria, including water system standards.  However, it can provide an opening for home bakers and candymakers, and others options for production and sale of homemade foods.

The Act will go into effect in January. It creates a new category of food production called a cottage food operation, which, unlike other types of commercial food facilities, can be operated out of a home kitchen. The types of foods that a cottage food operation can sell are limited to “non-potentially hazardous foods,” which are foods that are unlikely to grow harmful bacteria or other toxic microorganisms at room temperature. Previously, these foods have had to be prepared in a commercial kitchen or licensed cannery.

The list of non-potentially hazardous foods includes baked goods without cream, custard, or meat fllings; candy, such as brittle and toffee; dried fruit; dried pasta; fruit pies; cereals; herb blends; honey; jams, jellies and preserves 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. It does not cover meat products, cheeses or other dairy products, preserved or canned vegetables and other foods that have a high risk of bacterial contamination.

Requirements for a “cottage food operation”
Food producers operating under this act will have to register1 with the Marin County Department of Environmental Health (EHS), and will have to follow basic safe food handling practices for direct-to-consumer sales such as at farmers’ markets, through CSAs, etc.

If the cottage food operation will conduct indirect sales, such as selling to local shops or restaurants, a permit2 will have to be obtained from EHS that entails an annual inspection by a retail food facility inspector and to pay a permitting fee. Cottage food producers will also have to:

  • attend a class and pass an exam designed by the California Department of Public Health;
  • package and label all food products with the common name of the product, ingredients (in order of their prevalence by weight), a list of allergens, net weight of contents, county of production and registration or permit number issued by EHS; and 
  • adhere to sanitary procedures outlined in the California Health and Safety Code.

Water used during the preparation of cottage food products has to meet the potable drinking water standards for transient noncommunity water systems3 pursuant to the California Safe Drinking Water Act. Preparation of foods includes washing, sanitizing, and drying of any equipment used in the preparation of a cottage food product; washing, sanitizing, and drying of hands and arms; and water used as an ingredient.

Other Components of the Bill
The Homemade Food Act limits gross revenue from cottage food operations. In 2013 the limit will be $35,000, in 2014 it will be $45,000 and in 2015 and following years it will be $50,000. It also limits the number of full time equivalent employees to one, although family or household members can help out.

Indirect sales (eg sales through local shops, cafes and restaurants) are generally going to be limited to within the county where the food was produced, however, individual county health departments may choose to coordinate and allow for inter-county sales of cottage food products. Direct sales (between a producer and a consumer) may occur anywhere in California (eg at farmers’ markets, in a home, at special events, fundraisers and anywhere else where there is a direct purchasing relationship between the cottage food operation and the consumer).

What AB 1616 Does Not Change. Retail sales will still only be allowed from homes, farms, or ranches where County zoning allows retail sales.

1 - Because this bill was recently passed, EHS does not yet have forms and protocols ready to go.

2 - Ibid

3 - This is the type of water system required for restaurants, campgrounds, small wineries, and retail facilities with tasting rooms or restrooms, such as cheese plants that sell retail and/or provide tasting, and/or provide public restrooms to at least 25 individuals daily. Contact Marin County Environmental Health Department for more information.

By Lisa Bush