Different Regulations of Cottage Food Operations

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.

References

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/

3 thoughts on “Different Regulations of Cottage Food Operations”

  1. Respondent/Commenter

    Hey Winnie,

    This was a really informative piece you have put together. I had not really looked at Cottage Food Operations that much and now I see it as very reasonable option for lots of people to try their hand at running a small business. Anyone that has the space to grow a couple rows of peas, mint, chilies, or whatever else you want to try your hand at can do so and make some money off of it. The only really “difficultly” would be the labor which if you are trying this there is probably some love for the outdoors and gardening which would make this more of a hobby. I see CFO’s as a good way of neighborhoods helping each other. One neighbor can grow the potatoes, the next the tomatoes, the next the garlic and so on. I believe this to be most beneficial in tight nit communities.

  2. This topic was really eye opening to me. I was not aware that CFOs in Florida do not require a license or permit to operate and sell their product. I would definitely would want food I am purchasing from to be inspected and approved by a health agency. However because the lack of the permits/licensing, the imposed restrictions are great to keep CFOs in check.
    COVID-19 has definitely given small business the hardest hit throughout this whole year. It is very true with the added CDC guidelines that it makes it more difficult for small businesses to go forth with selling their products with the extra cost of disinfectants while trying to make a profit. I feel that CFOs that are determined to provide food to customers will find a way, even in difficult times, to do so.

  3. I found this topic to be really insightful on how CFOs operate. I was not aware that CFOs in Florida did not need a license or permit to sell their product. I was also surprised that these CFOs do not need to be inspected by a government agency to operate. As a consumer, I would want the products I am purchasing, especially food to be sold by someone with at least a permit and regularly inspected by a health department. That being said I do understand that each state of course has their own regulations that they see fit. With 1 in 6 Americans getting sick from a foodborne illness, one can only hope the CFOs are doing everything they can to prevent their product from adding to that problem. COVID-19 has given small businesses the hardest hit over the course of this year. With added health and safety regulations, the need to purchase sanitation and disinfectants, and the overall halt or slowing of seller to consumer contact, you can see that the food industry has been suffering the most. I believe that those CFOs that stand firm behind their product will continue to operate and bring their product to loyal and/or new customers the best way they can.

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