Growing your Small Food Business 

This page serves as a guide for those looking to start a food business in SLO county. While the process can seem daunting, the county has a number of ways to get your product up and running, and we are here to serve as a resource and support group during this process. 

The laws and regulations below are subject to change. Check the SLO County website for the most recent information.  Published: 11/9/17​

Cottage Kitchen Laws 

 

What are they: A Cottage Food Operation is an enterprise in a private home where specific food products can be made or repackaged for sale to consumers. These laws allow new food businesses to use their own home kitchen to produce and sell their product.

 

Who is eligible: Anyone in San Luis Obispo County producing approved food products, and generating less than $50,000 in gross annual sales.

 

Class A vs. B: Individuals applying for the Cottage Food Laws may choose to be under a Class A registration or Class B permit. The Class A registration is for those ronly selling directly to consumers, while those looking to also make indirect sales through a third party retailer must apply for a Class B permit.

Deciding which to apply for: You can always switch from an A to a B to give your self time to get established, and ensure that your kitchen is up to code. But it is also helpful to consider some of the benefits and drawbacks of both.

  • A Class A registration is both cheaper and slightly easier to apply for, but it restricts the producers to direct sales. 

  • Class A Registration costs 318$ annually.

  •  

  • A Class B permit takes a little longer to obtain, includes an initial and annual inspections of the home, and costs more.

  • However, with the permit you are able to sell to any third-party retailer in the county, as well as retailers within the state when the local environmental health agency of the outside county allows it. 

  • Class B Permit costs 633$ annually 

Approved Food Products List:

  1. Baked goods without cream, custard, or meat fillings

  2. Candies, confections, and chocolate-covered nuts and dried fruit.

  3. Dried fruit, nuts, granola, cereals, and trail mixes.

  4. Dried pasta, dried baking mixes, and dried or vegetarian-based soup mixes.

  5. Fruit pies, donuts, waffles, and candied apples

  6. Jams, jellies, preserves, honey, and sorghum syrup.

  7. Popcorn and vegetable and potato chips.

  8. Roasted coffee and dried tea.

  9. Vinegar, mustard, herb blends

  10. Buttercream frosting, icing, and fondant that do not contain eggs, cream, or cheese.

  11. Products made not be made if they require refrigeration, contain meat, or are acidic (such as hot sauces.)

 

*The above list is an incomplete version of all approved food products by the county, and is subject to change. Please check the below link for the most accurate information: http://www.slocounty.ca.gov/Departments/Health-Agency/Public-Health/Environmental-Health/Forms-Documents/Reference-Materials/Food-Program-Reference-Documents/Cottage-Food-Operations-Reference-Materials/Requirements-for-Cottage-Food-Operator.aspx

 

Regulations on the Kitchen:

  1. The city planning department allows for modifications to the home kitchen if new owners would be able to move in and use the kitchen for normal day to day cooking.

  2. Smoking, infants, small children, and pets are not allowed in the home kitchen during preparation, packaging, or handling of food products.

  3. Class B Operations may be inspected once a year.

*Again refer to the below link for all regulations and restrictions.

Tips from a Cottage Kitchen Cook: "Always be kind and do things the right way. It pays off!" - Jeneane Nicodemus (SugarMomma Pies)

Commissary Kitchens

Now it is time to grow your business, or you would like to produce something for which you need a commercial kitchen.

 

What is a Commissary Kitchen: A commissary is a commercial kitchen that rents space in their registered facility to other food service providers. They are often used by Caterers to prepare food, but can be used by any food business that  needs access to a commercial kitchen without buying or renting an entire facility.

Do I need to use one: It depends on the product you are making, where you want to sell it, and how much you are selling.

  • If it is an item not approved for production in a cottage kitchen, then this is a good option.

  • If you are looking to sell at farmers markets and other stores it may help to use a commissary kitchen, but Class B Cottage kitchen laws may also work depending on the organization.

  • If you are making over $50,000 in revenue per year you are no longer eligible for the cottage kitchen laws.

  • It may also be time to move to a commissary if your spouse is tired of fresh baked pies and other treats in the house!

 

What kitchens are close to me?:  

What if their are none available near me?: If you can't find a commissary kitchen with space close by, you can always talk to friends or local food businesses that have a commercial food license, and ask to use their extra space when available. Many Bakeries, Caterers, and Restaurants have extra space, and may be willing to rent it out on a case by case basis. This mostly requires them to fill out a form as a "Commissary," and they may assume some of the risk of food safety.

Other FAQs

  1. What is a Co-Packer: If your food business can’t make enough product co-packers can be contracted out to manufacture more using your own recipe. Typically this happens when their is a spike in demand, and the co-packer has to prove they can make the same product and inexpensively.

  2. Can I turn my home into a commercial kitchen: Most likely not, because you would have to create a separate structure, and the current zoning of your home would not allow for a commercial kitchen to be built say in your garage. However, these are dependent on the city planning and building department, and are subject to change.

  3. Can my Cottage kitchen be used as a commissary: Unfortunately you can not turn your own cottage kitchen into a commercial kitchen. The cottage kitchen space has to be within your own home, and the planning department would most likely not allow for commercial usage(renting out kitchen space) in a residence.

  4. What farmers markets can I sell at with a cottage kitchen license: Most farmers markets in SLO county DO allow for vendors using the cottage food laws. However, check out the PDF below for a complete list of which ones do and which don't.

  5. What is meant by "direct sale" of cottage food: "Direct sale" are a transaction between a Cottage Food Operator (CFO) operator and a consumer, where the consumer purchases the cottage food product directly from the CFO.  These include transactions at temporary events, farm stands, certified farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture subscriptions, and transactions occurring in person at the cottage food home.

  6. What is meant by "indirect sale" of cottage food: "Indirect sale" occur between CFO, a third-party retailer, and a consumer, where the consumer purchases cottage food products made by the CFO from a third-party retailer that holds a valid permit. Indirect sales include, sales made to retail food facilities including markets, restaurants, bakeries, and delis.

  7. What are limitations on Internet sales and delivery of cottage food products: A CFO may advertise and accept orders and payments via the internet or phone. However, a CFO must deliver (in person) to the customer. A CFO may not deliver products via Mail or out of state. Additionally, CFO’s can only sell cottage foods outside their county of residence only when the local environmental health agency of the outside county allows it.

Helpful Links 

 

SLO County cottage food laws: http://www.slocounty.ca.gov/Departments/Health-Agency/Public-Health/Environmental-Health/All-Environmental-Health-Services/Cottage-Food-Operation-Registration-or-Permit.aspx

SLO County commissary: http://www.slocounty.ca.gov/Departments/Health-Agency/Public-Health/Environmental-Health/All-Environmental-Health-Services/Catering-and-Other-General-Food-Service-Operations.aspx

Food license fees: http://www.slocounty.ca.gov/Departments/Health-Agency/Public-Health/Environmental-Health/Forms-Documents/FEES.aspx

 

Approved cottage foods: http://www.slocounty.ca.gov/Departments/Health-Agency/Public-Health/Environmental-Health/Forms-Documents/Reference-Materials/Food-Program-Reference-Documents/Cottage-Food-Operations-Reference-Materials/Requirements-for-Cottage-Food-Operator.aspx


 

The county and city departments are great at about answering any other questions you may have. If you have any questions regarding available kitchen space, or the process of starting up a food business contact us at Jeff@SlowMoneySLO.org

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To support the sustainable growth of small food, beverage and farm businesses which benefit the local food ecosystem and the economic development and health of the SLO County region.

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