This article was written by Tom Snell, SCORE Orange County Business Mentor
The cottage food business is up and running. The Orange County Public Health Department, in the spirit of helping and working against a very tight deadline, has now issued all the basic rules and application forms for this, which you can find by Googling www.OCfoodinfo.com/faq . Way to go OCPH ! The State of California, in the same race, is hopping along and hoping to reach the finish line by mid-January.
The first question you’ll have to answer is “are you ready.” This means you must know, very specifically, what you want to make. Here’s a clue, whatever it is, must be something that does not require refrigeration. If you are not sure what you want to do, I suggest you go to www.theselc.com/faq website, (another organization that got their work done) and there on the first page are the 16 items/categories within which you can work. There are a lot of possibilities.
After that you will have to decide exactly what it is you want to make, including the ingredients, how you expect to sell it, and where you will make it. That will help you decide if you are an A or B applicant. Once you check the application form, you will see you cannot be vague about this. Certainly something that reads like “I’m not sure yet.” will get you tossed in the dust bunny pile and could cost you unnecessary rejection and extra costs in application fees, because, as you will see, they are going to charge by the hour to process your application. So get it squared away before you submit it. Note that once you apply for a single item, let’s say cookies, you must only make cookies, as you applied for. Under that same application you cannot make jams and nut butter, etc. so get it down right the first time.
There are a couple of things that look small, but are important. One is insurance. At a minimum, you should call your household insurance company and see if what you’re going to do is allowed under your current policy. If not, find out how to adjust the policy, and how much will it cost. It may be that a new separate policy would be required. You may choose to form an LLC or a corporation to give yourself some extra protection, for a sole proprietorship can leave you wide open for liability issues. But plenty of insurance can protect you. In food, liability is always an issue. You do not want to be sued and lose your house!
Another requirement is the referenced four-hour food processor’s training course offered ONLY by the State of California. But as I’ve said, they’re not there yet and have nothing to offer until later. Nonetheless, once they are ready, you must complete that course within three months of being approved.
Also, you must get a business license and an okay from the city you are going to be operating in. Unless you create a lot of traffic and noise, this should not be a problem.
There are a number of restrictions as to what your cooking facilities must be like. Little kitty cannot be walking on the counter, as the kids roughhouse on the floor playing with the dog, while you have a cigarette. You can’t be cooking the family dinner and washing dishes at the same time you’re producing cottage food products either. Buy yourself some sanitizer and think clean! If you can’t handle a sanitary inspection, don’t start!
I hope you dig in on all this and get selling yummy homemade food. Note, this is not a hobby, it is a business. You want to make money and stay out of trouble. As always, we of SCORE are here to try to help you. Call us up, get an appointment and come in and we’ll talk about this.