Cottage Food Law Explained

New Regulations Make Things Easier for Small Operators

Aspiring foodie entrepreneurs, fire up your ovens. The California Homemade Food Act (AB 1616), commonly called the cottage food law, went into effect January 1 after being signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown last September. The bill allows “low-risk” foods to be prepared inside the home kitchens of cottage food operators and then be sold directly and indirectly to consumers.

Cottage foods include jams, coffee, baked goods, granola, popcorn, and dried fruit and exclude any meat or dairy products. The law, say its creators, incentivizes artisan producers by allowing them to bypass the financial burden of having to invest in a commercial kitchen. Proponents believe the law will be beneficial to local economies, allowing individuals to create a secondary income.

Despite the convenience of circumventing particular regulations, cottage food operators under AB 1616 are still subject to a number of requirements. They must be registered with their respective county health departments, pay a fee, and attend food safety courses. Likewise, their products must be labeled and indicate where they were made.

Businesses have the choice of performing either as a Class A or Class B operation. Food produced under Class A operations can be directly sold to consumers out of the home or at special events such as bake sales and farmers markets. Class B operations can sell both directly to consumers or indirectly through third-party retailers. Revenues, according to the law, are limited to $35,000 in 2013 and will be increased to $50,000 in 2015.

A number of Santa Barbara businesses are already operating under the law, according to Larry Fay with the county’s Public Health Department. More than 30 businesses are registered as cottage food operations in the area, offering artisan breads, jams, nut butters, and other items.

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