Home-Based Food Business

Cottage Food Operation (CFO)

The Cottage Food Bill was signed into law on September 21, 2012 and became effective on January 1, 2013.  This law allows residents in California to prepare approved food products in their home kitchen for direct sales to the public (CFO Class A) or direct and indirect sales to the public (CFO Class B).  Approved Cottage Food Products are non-potentially hazardous foods, which pose a low risk for bacteria contamination and foodborne illness.

All food products sold by Cottage Food Operators (CFO) must be listed on the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Cottage Food Operations (Approved Food List) and prepared, packaged and labeled per the California Health and Safety Code.  Additional fees will apply for investigation of valid complaints and re-inspections related to improperly labeled products or unapproved products offered for sale.

The CFO must maintain sanitary conditions, and maintain compliance with food and allergen labeling requirements in accordance with federal and state regulations and comply with established gross annual sales limits.

CFO Class A Operators can only sell directly to consumers.

 A “Class A” COTTAGE FOOD OPERATION, which is a COTTAGE FOOD OPERATION that may engage only in direct sales of cottage FOOD products from the COTTAGE FOOD OPERATION or other direct sales venues.

“Direct sale” means a transaction within the state between a COTTAGE FOOD OPERATION operator and a CONSUMER, where the CONSUMER purchases the cottage food product directly from the COTTAGE FOOD OPERATION. Direct sales include, but are not limited to, transactions at holiday bazaars or other temporary events, such as bake sales or food swaps, transactions at farm stands, certified farmers’ markets, or through community-supported agriculture subscriptions, and transactions occurring in person in the COTTAGE FOOD OPERATION.

CFO Class B Operators can sell directly to customers and indirectly to Permitted Retail Food Facility Operators (markets, bakeries, restaurants etc.).

A “Class B” COTTAGE FOOD OPERATION, which is a COTTAGE FOOD OPERATION that may engage in both direct sales and indirect sales of cottage FOOD products from the COTTAGE FOOD OPERATION.

"Direct sale” means a transaction within the state between a COTTAGE FOOD OPERATION operator and a CONSUMER, where the CONSUMER purchases the cottage food product directly from the COTTAGE FOOD OPERATION. Direct sales include, but are not limited to, transactions at holiday bazaars or other temporary events, such as bake sales or food swaps, transactions at farm stands, certified farmers’ markets, or through community-supported agriculture subscriptions, and transactions occurring in person in the COTTAGE FOOD OPERATION.

“Indirect sale” means an interaction between a COTTAGE  FOOD OPERATION, a third-party retailer, and a consumer, where the CONSUMER purchases cottage FOOD products made by the COTTAGE FOOD OPERATION from a third-party retailer that holds a valid permit issued pursuant to Section 114381. Indirect sales include, but are not limited to, sales made to retail shops or to RETAIL FOOD facilities where FOOD may be immediately consumed on the PREMISES.

Alameda County residents interested in becoming a Cottage Food Operator, must obtain approval from the Alameda County Department of Environmental Health and the City Planning Department.

The following documents must be submitted with the required fee for review to the Alameda County Department of Environmental Health:


Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations (MEHKO)

A MEHKO is a type of food service that is owned and operated by the resident in a private home where food is stored, handled, and prepared to be served or delivered to customers. Food must be prepared the day of service and can be eaten onsite or delivered to the customer. Food may also be advertised through an internet website or a phone based mobile app of an Internet Food Service Intermediary. Food products are not to be sold to a wholesale or retail food facility (restaurants, temporary food facilities, mobile food trucks/carts, cottage food facilities, or community events).

How do I start a MEHKO?

  • “Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operation (MEHKO) – Application / Standard Operating Procedures” can be downloaded or are available at the Department of Environmental Health, located at:
Alameda County Department of Environmental Health (ACDEH)
1131 Harbor Bay Parkway
Alameda, CA 94502

  • To begin the permitting process, submit the “Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operation (MEHKO) – Application / Standard Operating Procedures” application by mail or walk-in along with the permit fee of $696.00. Application will not be processed until payment is secured.
  • Once the completed application and standard operating procedures documents are reviewed and approved by ACDEH, an initial inspection will be scheduled and conducted at the private residence to verify compliance with state law.
  • A Permit to Operate may be issued after the permit fee is paid, application is approved, and an initial inspection is conducted verifying compliance.

Frequently Asked Questions
The new law establishes a “microenterprise home kitchen operation”, also referred to as MEHKO, as a new type of retail food facility operated by the resident of a private home kitchen. MEHKOs, once authorized, the County’s Department of Environmental Health will be the permitting agency.
The new law became effective on January 1, 2019 but Alameda County (excluding City of Berkeley) must “Opt In” to authorize implementation. MEHKO-related questions for the City of Berkeley, please contact City of Berkeley Environmental Health directly at (510) 981-5310 or https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Environmental_Health/ for information.
MEHKO is a food service operation, permitted by DEH and operated by the resident in a private home where food is stored, handled, and prepared for service or delivery to customers. Food must be prepared and served the same day from the MEHKO facility only. Food may be advertised through an internet website or a phone based mobile application of an Internet Food Service Intermediary. MEHKO food products cannot be sold to a wholesale facility, retail food facility, or a mobile food facility.
“Private home” means a residential building, including a house, apartment or other owned or leased space, where individuals reside. The MEHKO must be conducted within the primary residence. Second homes, vacation homes, boats or motor homes DO NOT qualify for a MEHKO.
Yes, food preparation is limited to 30 meals per day or 60 individual meals per week and gross annual sales cannot exceed $50,000. Records of all sales must be maintained for compliance with this limitation.
The local enforcement agency for food facilities, including MEHKOs, in Alameda County is the Alameda County Department of Environmental Health (DEH) except for the City of Berkeley.
Posting of signs and outdoor displays to advertise a MEHKO operation is prohibited.
An application can be picked up at the Department of Environmental Health office, located at 1131 Harbor Bay Parkway, Alameda, CA 94502 or visit the Department’s website at https://deh.acgov.org. To qualify for a permit, a prospective operator must complete a “Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operation (MEHKO) – Application / Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)” form for DEH review and approval and submit applicable fees. Once the application and SOPs are reviewed and approved by DEH, an initial inspection will be scheduled to verify compliance with requirements of state law. Once compliance is verified, a permit can be issued.
The application process is dependent upon accuracy and completeness of the submitted application. An inspector will contact the applicant within five (5) business days to confirm receipt of application and fees. Applicants must provide accurate contact information on the application to ensure timely response.
The permit holder of the MEHKO must successfully pass an approved and accredited food safety manager course. Any individual, other than the operator/permit holder, who is involved with the preparation, storage, or service of food in the MEHKO must obtain a food handler card from one of the accredited providers. For a list of approved food safety manager and food handler courses, visit the DEH website at https://deh.acgov.org.
A MEHKO is allowed one full time equivalent employee who is an individual employed for the MEHKO, this does not include household or family members.
MEHKOs receive one routine inspection per year. A routine inspection will be scheduled after a final onsite evaluation determines a permit-to-operate can be issued. Additional inspections may be scheduled in response to a complaint, a food safety emergency, if it is suspected that adulterated or otherwise unsafe food has been produced or served by the MEHKO, or if the MEHKO has violated state law (California Retail Food Code).
The areas include the kitchen, dining area, food storage areas, restroom (toilet room), janitorial or cleaning areas, and trash storage areas. Any utensils and equipment used in the MEHKO must be easily cleanable and in good condition.
MEHKOs are required to keep animals out of the kitchen during food service and preparation.
A MEHKO can prepare and sell food and beverages that have been approved by the local enforcement agency for same day on-site consumption or delivery with the exception of food or beverages that:
  • Involve the production, service, or sale of raw milk or raw milk products
  • Involve the service or sale of raw oysters
  • Involve food processes that require a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) Plan such as:
    • Smoking food as a method of food preservation
    • Curing food
    • Using food additives or adding components such as vinegar as a method of food preservation
    • Operating a molluscan shellfish life support system display tank used to store and display shellfish that are offered for human consumption
    • Using acidification or water activity to prevent the growth of Clostridium botulinum
    • Packaging potentially hazardous food using a Reduced-Oxygen Packaging method
    • Preparing food by another method that is determined by the lead local agency to require a HACCP Plan
  • Involve the manufacturing of ice cream, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products without a license from California Department of Food and Agriculture
  • Contains alcohol without the appropriate liquor license from Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC)
No, California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) prohibit a food facility from adding these ingredients to any food products offered to the public for consumption.
No, the existing equipment/appliances used in a MEHKO home kitchen must be kept clean, stored in a sanitary manner and maintained in good working order.
Yes, a MEHKO may use an open-air barbecue or an outdoor wood-burning oven as long as the barbecue or wood-burning oven is:
  • Operated on the same property within reasonable proximity
  • Not accessible by the public
  • Not in a location that constitutes a fire hazard or creates a nuisance.
  • Meets the requirements of the California Retail Food Code
No, an operator of a MEHKO cannot sell food products at a temporary community event, a Certified Farmer’s Market, or any other mobile food facility.
Yes, only potable water from a properly constructed on-site drinking water well that is tested annually will be approved. Potable water means the water supply complies with the standards established by the California Safe Drinking Water Act.
Yes, however, home gardens for MEHKO purposes should be registered by DEH as part of the application process. In addition, care should be taken to ensure all fruit and produce is grown and handled using best management practices associated with a community food producer and all produce must be thoroughly washed prior to use.
An operator of a MEHKO must maintain the following documents onsite for review upon request:
  • Written standard operating procedures that include a menu and hours of operation
  • A valid permit issued by DEH must be displayed onsite when the MEHKO is in operation.
  • A copy of the most recent DEH inspection report
  • Records of all receipts from MEHKO sales
Yes, DEH MEHKO permits are non-transferable. If an operator moves to a new residence, they must start a new application process.
The law exempts a MEHKO from any local grading system. However, as with fixed food and mobile food facilities, MEHKO inspection results are available at https://deh.acgov.org.
A MEHKO is required to display its valid health permit during hours of operation. Customers could also visit https://deh.acgov.org for information on a MEHKO permit status.
DEH should be made aware first and complaints involving nuisance concerns should be reported directly to the local city’s Code Enforcement Division, or for unincorporated County areas to the Alameda County Community Development Agency Code Enforcement Division.
A calibrated probe thermometer must be provided to check internal food temperatures. The thermometer must scaled 0°F to 220°F and be accurate to  ± 2 degrees.
Approved Food Source includes food obtained from local, state, or federally regulated food facilities such as markets, grocery stores, restaurants, community gardens, certified farmer’s market, food banks, restaurant supply, manufacturer, etc.