UPDATE: The Petaluma Seed Bank is offering a class on starting your own cottage food biz on Jan. 10, 2013. This special free talk will be presented by Frederick Smith, COO/CFO of Forage Kitchen, SBDC Consultant, and active member of Slow Money Northern California. Frederick’s talk will specifically address the implications of the Homemade Food Act for Sonoma County citizens. The event will be held Thursday, January 10, at 7 p.m. (199 Petaluma Blvd. North in downtown Petaluma) and will be focused on the California Homemade Food Act (“cottage food law”), which makes it easier for people to make food products in their homes and sell them to the public.
Sonoma County has rolled out the welcome mat for a new breed of small business: The cottage food industry.
Though home-based bakers, candy-makers, picklers and condiment producers have long-operated the margins of legality, the recently enacted California Cottage Food Law now allows for legal public food production in residential kitchens.
But that doesn’t mean just anyone can set up a bake sale in their front yard. The list of foods given the thumbs-up by the California Department of Public Health for sale is restricted to those deemed “non-potentially hazardous”. That includes baked goods without cream, custard or meat fillings (cookies, tortillas, churros, pastries, bread); candy, dried fruit and pasta; dry baking mixes, granolas and cereals; fruit pies, empanadas and tamales; honey, jams, jellies and fruit butters; nut mixes and popcorn; vinegar and mustards; roasted coffee or dried tea; waffle cones or pizelles. According to the California Cottage Food Law, any food outside of that list currently requires the use of a commercial kitchen or additional county approval.
The recent Cottage Food Law does require permitting from the county, with an annual fee of up to $347 in addition to local zoning approval, and passing a state-sanctioned food handling course. Also, the food must be labeled according to federal requirements and cottage food operations cannot exceed $35,000 in sales in 2013.
Despite the hurdles, for many start-up food businesses the law is a much-needed economic incentive that allows them to ramp up production to farm markets, small retailers and online sales without having to rent a commercial kitchen — which can cost upwards of $25 per hour to use. A number of counties including Sonoma and Los Angeles have embraced the law, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2013. However, San Francisco and Alameda counties, which have a thriving cottage food industry are still not up and running. Throughout the country, more than 30 states have already enacted cottage food business laws.
For more details on Sonoma County’s Department of Health Services Cottage Food permitting process, to to sonoma-county.org.