10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Selling Food From Home

Baked goods: a loaf of pumpkin bread with pumpkin seeds and oatmeal raisin cookies on plates with a white wood background

Many of us have been looking into ways to make money outside of the standard 9-to-5. Selling food from home is often suggested but with little information on how to go about it. Detailed information is available but overwhelming to review, so here are ten initial questions to ask yourself before delving further.

Note: This post was last updated March 20, 2021 and is based on general information reviewed for the state of California. For information specific to your state, county, and city zone, search online and contact your local planning office and environmental health agency with questions.

Pin with list of 10 questions to ask before selling food from home with black font in a light-pink text box and oatmeal raisin cookies in the background.

1. Is selling food from home allowed in my state?

Most states in the U.S. allow residents to prepare and sell “cottage foods” from a “Cottage Food Operation” (CFO). Cottage foods are non-potentially hazardous foods that are not likely to grow bacteria rapidly when unrefrigerated and get people sick. A CFO is a private home kitchen that has been registered or permitted by the local environmental health agency of the city or county in which the resident lives. To find out if your state has a CFO program, search online for “Cottage Food Operation” and “[the state in which you live]”.

2. What does my city or county require to sell food from home?

Local environmental health agencies require private home kitchens to be registered or permitted before preparing and selling cottage foods. Residents must obtain approval from their city or county planning office then complete and submit an application for a Class A CFO registration or a Class B CFO permit with the required documents and fees. The class of CFO depends on where food will be sold.

Class AClass B
Selling TypeSells food directly at the CFO or a temporary community eventSells food directly and indirectly through offsite events or third-party retail food facilities
Application TypeRegistrationPermit
Required
Documents
Application Form
Sample Food Label
Food Product List
Self-Certification Checklist
Application Form
Sample Food Label
Food Product List
Required FeesApplication FeeInspection Fee
Application Fee

Additional permits may be required. CFOs may not make more than $50,000 in gross annual sales and may have 1 full-time employee, who is not an immediate family or household member. Certain city or county zones may require a statement of healthy and safe working conditions. Within 3 months of obtaining approval, all CFO staff must complete an approved food processor course and provide proof. If the water source is a private well, the water must be tested for quality by an approved laboratory and the results (no older than 3 months) ─ submitted. To find requirements specific to your city or county, search online for “Cottage Food Operation” and “[your specific city or county]”.

3. Do I have the right set-up to sell food from home?

Other home activities, such as preparing family meals, washing dishes, cleaning the kitchen, washing and ironing clothes, and entertaining guests, must not take place, and infants, young children, and pets must not be present, at the same time as preparing, packaging, and handling food for the CFO. Any additional storage space must be separate from sleeping areas and designated only for the CFO.

4. Are my 5 “Ss” sanitary to sell food from home?

The CFO’s food-processing sources, supplies, spaces, staff, and steps must be sanitary.

Residents may need to indicate whether the water source is municipal or from a private well, and whether the water disposal is through a public sewer service or private septic system. If water is from a private well, it must be tested for quality by an approved laboratory annually. Water used as an ingredient and to wash hands, any exposed arms, equipment, surfaces, and utensils must meet state drinking standards.

All equipment and utensils must be clean and in good, working condition. Before each use, all equipment, surfaces, and utensils that come in contact with food must be washed, rinsed, and sanitized. The kitchen and storage spaces must be free of insects, rodents, and smoking.

All staff must wash his or her hands and exposed arms immediately before and while preparing, packaging, and handling food, and after engaging in any non-related activities. They must not work if contagiously ill and, within 3 months of the CFO obtaining approval, complete an approved food processor course. Such courses are available online in different languages, on different devices, and at different lengths and prices, and certification lasts for 3 years.

5. What food will I prepare and sell from home?

Only foods on the approved product list are allowed. Foods cannot contain ingredients that spoil readily, such as cream, custard, and meat fillings, and may not contain egg. A food product list with the names and categories must be submitted. Examples of approved products in the state of California are below. To find approved products specific to your city or county, search online.

SweetSavoryOther
Baked goods free of cream, custard, or meat fillings, such as churros, cookies, donuts (baked or fried), pastries, pizelles, waffles, waffle cones
Candies and confections, such as brittle, candied applies, cotton candy, fudge, hard candy, egg-free marshmallows, egg-free marshmallow bars, popcorn balls, salted caramel, toffee
Dried hot cocoa and ground chocolate; chocolate-covered fruit, egg-free marshmallows, and nuts
Dried fruit and fruit powders; fruit butters, jams, jellies, and preserves that meet federal standards; fruit pies, empanadas, or tamales
Dried spiced sugars, dessert sprinkles, sweet sorghum syrup
Cream-free/cream cheese-free/egg-free buttercream fondant, frosting, or icing and gum paste
Baked goods, such as biscuits, bread, tortillas
Cereals, granola, trail mixes
Dried baking mixes, dried grain mixes, dried pasta
Dried or dehydrated vegetables, dried vegetarian-based soups, vegetable and potato chips
Nut butters, nut mixes, popcorn
Dried mole paste and herb blends
Dried tea and roasted coffee
Mustard and vinegars
Seasoning salt

6. Where will I sell food prepared from home?

Residents must determine whether they will sell food directly at the CFO or a temporary community event, such as a bake sale, certified farmer’s market, farm stand, or food swap (Class A), or both directly and indirectly through offsite events or third-party food retail facilities, such as markets, restaurants, or stores (Class B).

7. What will I name my business for selling food from home?

Residents must determine a name for their CFO business (if they haven’t already) and indicate it on their application and food labels. (Have fun with this!)

8. How must I package food prepared from home?

Food must be packaged with labels that are in English and legible and meet state and federal requirements. They must indicate

  • that the food is made or repackaged in a home kitchen
  • the CFO name and registration or permit number and local issuing agency
  • the common name or a descriptive name of the food
  • the ingredients listed in descending order by weight and any major food allergens, such as eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shellfish, soybeans, tree nuts, or wheat
  • net amount (count, volume, or weight) in both English and metric units

A sample food label must be submitted.

9. Will I need help with selling food from home?

If help with preparing, packaging, and handling food is needed, a CFO may have 1 full-time employee, who is not an immediate family or household member. This employee must complete an approved food processor course.

10. Can I afford an application to sell food from home?

Residents must pay fees to apply for a CFO registration or permit, have inspections, and complete the food processor course. Application fees alone can add up to about $300 for a Class A CFO or $700 for a Class B CFO. Residents must also pay for water quality testing if the water is from a private well.

Reminder

I hope this post helped you prioritize initial questions to ask yourself before selling food from home. Remember, it was based on general information reviewed for the state of California, so search online for information specific to your state and city or county and contact your local planning office and environmental health agency with questions. It’s a lot of information, so pin it for later and share with others, who may be interested!

Pin with a pumpkin loaf with pumpkin seeds on a white plate with pumpkin seeds. Dark brown font with a light-pink background.

Published by Scout

Resourceful day-to-day living and entertaining. DIY Upcycling, Easy Eats, Pandemic Life, Tasty Trips, The Great Indoors, Mind Body Spirit, Make Money Save Money, and Music Music Music.

26 thoughts on “10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Selling Food From Home

  1. very helpful, as Im planning to do this in the future. to set up my own home baking businese. thanks for this

  2. I was thinking about selling food from my house, sort of a private chef. I can cook from my home or the client’s home. Is that still a CFO? I didn’t know you can’t sell something with eggs or meat. I have seen people do restaurants in their homes.
    Do you have any suggestions about that? Thank you so much. I’m learning a lot from your article 😊

  3. Hi, Colette! Thank you for commenting 🙂 CFOs are the most widely-allowed means for selling food from home in the U.S. They are limited in what you can make and sell (likely because of food safety concerns). I’d look at your city or county’s approved food product list for CFOs. Any foods outside of the list may be allowed through a different program, such as private chef or microenterprise home kitchen operation.

  4. This is very useful! I had always wondered how complex that process. I’m from Canada, so I’m sure the rules are probably a bit different here…but this still gives a great guideline to know where to start.

  5. I’m happy to read this, Nadya! I’d hoped they’d be good, general questions that everyone can ask. Thanks 🙂

  6. This is a really informative post! I’ve considered doing a home bakery in the future, so this is helpful. 🙂

  7. You have discussed many considerations that most customers would not even be aware of. There are definitely expenses involved in having a home-based business, which would then need to built into the price of the items sold. Thank you for sharing these tips.

  8. Oh yes – I agree there are definitely expenses involved in having a home-based business on top of the application! Thanks for commenting, Maureen 🙂

  9. You’re very welcome, Nora – it’s my pleasure! I do wonder what the requirements are in other countries…

  10. Thanks for this article, it’s so helpful! Gives me a lot to think about as I’m considering selling some of my baked goods from home in the future. I always bake way too much stuff at the moment for me to eat all by myself!

  11. Kachina, I’m glad you found these initial questions helpful! There is a lot to think about when considering selling food (as well as having a business) from home.

  12. Lol – I’m sure your cakes are hard to resist, Mihaela! I hope these general questions sparked curiosity for how homemade foods may be sold in your area 🙂 Thanks for dropping by!

  13. My wife is currently taking an online course in Business Management through our local Junior College, her business plan asks many of the same questions. Thanks for your insight.

  14. I have such a passion for baking and have actually been considering this for a while now but had NO IDEA where to start. This was SO very helpful. Thanks!!

  15. This post is so helpful. I think a lot of people set out to do this without really thinking it through. This gives a clear checklist of what one needs to remember.

  16. Thanks, Adriane! It’s true – selling food from home seems easy enough. A person close to me dove right in without knowing the requirements. I’m happy to read how helpful and clear this is 🙂

  17. My pleasure, Amy! I’m happy to offer some guidance – especially on something that may not be as simple as initially thought 🙂

  18. This is a great list to think about before starting a biz selling food/beverages made from home. Many people dont even think about all this.

  19. Thanks, Syl! It’s surprising to learn all that goes into selling food from home – and this just brushes the surface 🙂

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