Cottage Food Operator

Thu, 08/06/15
By: Jeremy Little, Associate

Now in its third year, California’s cottage food law and burgeoning cottage food industry continues to evolve.  The two-tier cottage food operator (“CFO”) registration and permitting system is enforced by local county or city environmental health agencies.  A CFO permit allows individuals to prepare and/or package certain food products, made at home, and sell those products to the public.  “Class A” operations are those that only sell CFO prepared foods directly to the public (at the home where the cottage food operation is located or at a community event such as a farmers market).  “Class B” operations are those that sell CFO prepared foods either indirectly through retail food facilities such as restaurants and grocery stores or both directly to the public as well as indirectly via retail storefronts.  

“Class A” applicants must submit a completed self-certification checklist approved by the local environmental health agency when they submit their registration application. “Class B” applicants must submit a permit application and be inspected prior to obtaining a permit from the local environmental health agency.  Both CFO Classes may not have more than one full-time equivalent employee. 

All CFO applicants will have to meet specified requirements pursuant to the California Health and Safety Code such as (i) preparing only foods that are on the approved food list (below), (ii) completing a food processor training course within three months of registering, (iii) implementing very specific sanitary operations, (iv) creating state and federal compliant labels, and (v) operating within established gross annual sales limits ($50,000). 

Approved Products Unapproved Products
Baked goods, without cream, custard, or meat fillings; candy, such as brittle and toffee; ground chocolate; chocolate-covered non-perishable foods; dried fruit; dried pasta; dry baking mixes; dried or dehydrated vegetables; dried vegetarian-based soup mixes; fruit pies, fruit empanadas, and fruit tamales; granola, cereals, and trail mixes; herb blends and dried mole paste; honey and sweet sorghum syrup; nut mixes and nut butters; vegetable and potato chips; jams, jellies, preserves, and fruit butter that comply with the standard described in Part 150 of Title 21of the CFR; popcorn; vinegar and mustard; roasted coffee and dried tea; waffle cones and pizelles; cotton candy; confections such as salted caramel, fudge, marshmallow bars; buttercream frosting, buttercream icing, buttercream fondant, and gum paste that do not contain eggs, cream, or cream cheese. Fresh or dried meat or meat products including jerky; fresh or dried poultry or poultry products; fish or shellfish products; ice or ice products; canned fruits, vegetables, vegetable butters, salsas, etc.; canned pickled products such as corn relish, pickles, sauerkraut; bakery goods with fillings such as cream, custard or meringue pies; milk and dairy products including hard, soft and cottage cheeses and yogurt; cut fresh fruits or vegetables; raw seed sprouts; food products made from cut fresh fruits or vegetables; food products made with cooked vegetable products; vegetable butter; garlic in oil mixtures; juices made from fresh fruits or vegetables; barbeque sauces and ketchups; ganache; chutney; focaccia-style breads with vegetables or cheeses; wine preserves; food products that require refrigeration.

In addition to the CFO Application overseen by the County of Sonoma Health Services, which must be filed prior to your business start date, other licenses necessary for a CFO producer and the applicable agencies are here below:

  1. Produce Gardener Certificate (County of Sonoma). Must file prior to submitting CFO Application
  2. Fictitious Business Name Statement (County of Sonoma). Must file prior to business start date
  3. Seller’s Permit (CA State Board of Equalization). Must have prior to selling at Farmers Markets
  4. Food Facility Registration (Food & Drug Admin.). Must have prior to selling at Farmers Markets
  5. Temporary Food Facility Permit (County of Sonoma). Must file 30 days prior to selling at Farmers Markets; CFO permit number required.
  6. Processed Food Registration (CA Dept. of Public Health). Required in connection with the Temporary Food Facility Permit; CFO permit number required.
  7. Wednesday Night Market Application (City of Santa Rosa). Must submit application prior to March 1.
  8. Business License (each City or Town where Farmers Market is located).

For more information about CFO licensing and labeling CFO products, especially if using and advertising as “organic” please contact Jeremy Little at (707) 526-4200 or

100 B Street, Suite 400
Santa Rosa, CA 95401

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1230 Spring Street, Suite B
St. Helena, CA 94574

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300 Oswego Pointe, Suite 103
Lake Oswego, OR 97034

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