Cottage food operations are a great way for people to sell homemade food to consumers from the back of their kitchen. This can be a way to earn extra income or start a small business, but the rules and regulations regarding such operations vary from state to state. For instance, some states require some sort of license or permit to operate a CFO while other states have no such requirement. There are also limitations as to what an operator can sell.
In California, AB 1616 authorized cottage food operations (CFOs). The state requires a permit and the site of operation may be inspected by the local environmental health agency. There are 2 categories that an operation can be: Class A and Class B. For Class A, the establishment must sell the product directly to the consumer, such as a farmers’ market or the home where the food is prepared. It also requires applicants to complete and submit a self-certification checklist that has been approved by your local environmental health agency. For Class B, the producer can sell their products indirectly through a medium like a restaurant, or directly to the consumer. The operations need to have an inspection and submit a permit application before actually getting their permit. After registering, the state requires an operation to complete a food handler training course within three months.
In Florida, cottage food operations don’t need to get a license or permit from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. They also don’t need to be inspected by a government agency. The cottage foods can only be sold inside the state and can’t be sold to other states. Operators can sell their food on websites, but the food itself has to be delivered directly to the customer, like at a farmers’ market. You can’t sell cottage food products along with food from a permitted food establishment because the cottage food doesn’t come from an approved source. The cottage food operator also can’t receive outside help and must do everything by themselves, including delivery. Additionally, cottage food can’t be sold as wholesale; this eliminates restaurants or grocery stores as potential customers.
The same as California, CFOs in Florida can’t make more than $50,000 in gross annual sales. Also, the food must be sold within the state and the food must be properly packaged and labeled according to each individual state. In the list of approved foods operators can sell as cottage food, it consists of select food that are deemed low risk or non-potentially hazardous foods. For instance, baked goods without dairy or meat fillings, cereals, fruit pies, etc. Typically, food that needs refrigeration or is acidified cannot be sold under CFOs.
This is because higher risk foods, like meat pies, require careful control of time/temperature to inhibit potential bacteria growth (Divison of Food Safety, 2020). It’s too precarious for a CFO to handle such foods because they aren’t an approved food facility and have not received the required permit. If food isn’t cooked to the right temperature, foodborne illnesses can occur. (STEC) E. coli is a bacterium that can be contracted when ground beef isn’t cooked thoroughly. As such, ensuring that higher risk foods come from facilities that have been approved to sell these goods will protect public health.
With COVID-19 still ongoing, CFOs will have to take extra caution with sanitation and hygiene measures. Since Floridians have to sell/deliver in person, it’s more challenging to make sales while ensuring they are following CDC guidelines. The same obstacles face CFOs in California and with less restaurants open, producers have a smaller market. CFOs are a wonderful way to start a food business, but every state has their own regulations and should be checked. There is a list of non-hazardous food that can be sold, and it’s made this way because these foods pose a low risk to foodborne illnesses. The health of everyone is of utmost importance and even with COVID-19, CFOs should continue to maintain good management practices.
California Department of Public Safety. Cottage Food Operations. https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CEH/DFDCS/CDPH%20Document%20Library/FDB/FoodSafetyProgram/CottageFood/CFO%20Overview%202018.pdf
Division of Food Safety. (2020, August). Cottage Food Operations. https://www.fdacs.gov/content/download/70108/file/Cottage-Food-Brochure.pdf
Marty-Jimenez, B. (2020, April 8). COVID-19 and Cottage Food Operations: 10 Considerations. UF/IFAS Broward Extension Blogs. http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/browardco/2020/04/08/covid-19-and-cottage-food-operations-10-considerations/