Now for the big step of making my bakery legal… the Cottage Food Operation permit. It’s long, gang. Really long. Here are the parts:
Attachments: If you’re on public water (you probably are), you have to attach a copy of your recent water bill. If you’re not, you have to attach a copy of your recent water testing results. Attach a copy of your signed Food Worker’s Card. Attach a copy of your state business license.
Draw your floor plan: all the parts of your home that will be used for the bakery operation. Kitchen, storage, hand washing area, “primary toilet room,” and where you will stow your kids and/or pets during operating hours. Identify and label storage areas, hand washing station(s), equipment washing/sanitizing stations, work surfaces, etc. I hope you remember that 6th grade drafting class you took.
Recipes: ALL YOUR RECIPES. All of them. Every single one you will use, and every variation of them. This means when I have on my menu both apple bread and apple bread mini-loaves, I submitted a recipe for both apple bread and apple bread mini-loaves, because each of these uses a different size pan.
First, you need a numbered list of all the recipes you’re submitting.The names here must match the names on the recipes. You cannot use any brand names, which is why I sell “Yolo” cookies instead of Rolo cookies.
Then, you need the actual recipes (numbered to match your list). All ingredients must be in the same measurements – don’t switch between cups and ounces. All ingredients used in the instructions must be listed (don’t forget the cooking spray!), and likewise all ingredients listed must be used in the instructions.
Then! Then you need labels with the recipe names, and your ingredients listed by weight. Don’t guess – they’ll know. More on this later. Also, list sub-ingredients of your ingredients. Again, more on this later. Then list allergens. Milk, egg, soy, wheat, peanuts, pecans, coconut… pay attention. That cooking spray? Probably has coconut oil and/or soynut oil. ALLERGEN!! They’ll notice even if you don’t. And at the bottom of that label you need a disclaimer in no less than 11 pt font that says MADE IN A HOME KITCHEN THAT HAS NOT BEEN SUBJECT TO STANDARD INSPECTION CRITERIA. Then put your happy business name and address.
Processing: This is where you list all the steps you probably don’t even think about. Yes, get specific. It helps if you fill this part out immediately after having made something. Here is an actual excerpt from my application: “Frosting cupcakes: While wearing disposable plastic gloves, cupcakes are placed into plastic cupcake carrier. Frosting is scooped with spatula into a disposable plastic decorating bag fitted with a plastic coupler and metal decorating tip. Frosting is piped from the decorating bag onto cupcakes, and when finished, the plastic container is snapped closed. The plastic coupler and metal decorating tip are put into the utensil bin of the dishwasher for cleaning and sanitizing, and the plastic decorating bag is thrown away.”
Packaging: Again, get specific. The application starts to feel pretty redundant, but you have to keep in mind they’re not coming and inspecting your kitchen regularly like they would do with a commercial kitchen, and they want to make sure you’re not being careless and making consumers sick. Just as I did with the Processing step, I found it easiest to break it down by the different products I planned to sell, and address each one individually. Here’s one part from my application: “Cupcakes: I purchase food-grade plastic snap-close cupcake carriers from Amazon.com. Each container holds one dozen cupcakes. After snapping the container closed, I place one self-stick ingredients label on the top of the container.”
Labeling: This is listed here on the application, but actually you’re going to have them up there with your recipes. When you print out your recipes to submit, print them in landscape mode with the recipes on the left-hand side of the page, and then print out your labels and stick them on the right-hand side. This page just gives you the instructions for the labels, which I pretty much covered up there. If you’re doing alcoholic treats and need to figure out that whole 1% rule they mention, I’ve shared the formula I used and my math a bit further down below in this post. If you still need some help, feel free to get in touch. I spent a good amount of time on that myself, and got some help from a friend, and would be happy to share what I learned.
Equipment & Utensils: Yup. List ’em all. Whisks, mixer(s), spatulas, the whole works. There’s no tool too small.
Cleaning & Sanitation: Explain in great detail how you’re going to clean and sanitize everything – all that equipment, all those utensils, all your work surfaces, your floor, your walls, your oven mitts and aprons and hands and aura. …Okay, maybe your aura is a liiiiittle too far.
Processing dates: Your anticipated work schedule. If you already know you’re going to do a certain farmer’s market, you can put that. I just put down something like “depending on orders.” They accepted that. Easiest page by far. Gave myself a little high five.
Sales Plan: Another easy page for me. “Sales are made via email/internet and delivered or picked up in person.” BOOM. Done. (In other words, “I hope I get sales I hope I get sales I hope I get sales…”)
Child Management/Pet Management: Same page, but two different sections. If you have kids under 6 in the house when you’re working, you have to have a plan to “manage” them (keep them out of the kitchen, because kids under 6 can’t be trusted around baking, I guess). Baby gates, crates/locking them in another room (obviously here I’m referring to the pets… or am I?), etc.
Checklist: Just checking everything off. Makes you feel good.
So that’s your application… as I’m sure you can tell, it’s the recipe section that is the most involved, the most difficult, and the most likely to trip you up. That is the section that got my application returned to me a couple of times for revisions. When you turn in your application, if you manage to not get to them during the January renewal time, you’ll probably get a response fairly quickly. I worked with the same very nice woman throughout my entire process, which was nice. Unfortunately my second time through did happen to be during renewal times so it took longer.
My first time submitting was full of mistakes, all of which were my own fault. I made the huge judgment error of trusting another blogger who wrote about her experience – and this was an old post, too – trying to get approved for a Cottage Food Permit. She ended up getting frustrated with the whole thing and renting a commercial kitchen part-time to supplement the home permit because some things (stove-top candies, meats, etc) are not allowed under CFO. She claimed that when someone came to inspect her commercial kitchen, the inspector told her that for the home permit, she could have just submitted a few “basic” recipes, and then baked/sold “pretty much whatever” as long as she “did it safely.” I went with this. I also guessed at the weights of my ingredients when I made my labels. Both of these were definitely rookie mistakes.
My application was returned, loaded with what would have been red ink had it been a school essay. Almost all of my ingredients were out of order, I’d failed to list a large number of sub-ingredients and allergens, and on my website I was advertising A. lots of things that I hadn’t submitted recipes for and B. a few things that weren’t allowed under CFO law in the first place.
Step one, I removed the things from my website that are not allowed. I hadn’t realized they would even look up my website. Any of those things that I wanted to keep in the blog, like the apple cider caramels, just as fun and informative things I’ve done, had to get disclaimers that they were not for sale. That’s when I came up with the “Bunneh Test Kitchen.” A lot of things that come from Bunneh Test Kitchen will end up being submitted for review when I renew my permit for 2016, which is exciting! Others, though, are just me playing around in the kitchen and having fun, because that’s important for me to keep doing. I give away apple cider caramels often as gifts, and we eat a lot of bacon jam in this house and it’s always put out when we have friends over for barbecues.
Step two, add all the missing allergens. That part was fairly easy, since they helpfully listed them for me. I’d simply forgotten to put them in, as I don’t think of eggs as an allergen, or I’d missed the fact that cooking spray has coconut oil in it and coconut is an allergen. It’s those tiny details that trip you up.
Step three, the fun one, was working on weights. I found a couple of websites listing the weights of common ingredients and I printed those lists out. I highlighted the ones most used in my recipes (flour, sugar, eggs, etc). I then took my laptop with me to work every day for a month and spent every lunch hour either in our break room, or in the building next door. They have several restaurants and a large seating area, along with free wifi, so I’d settle in with headphones and a bagel and spread out my papers, pencil, and laptop.
Every. Single. Day. I transferred all of my recipes into a spreadsheet, one recipe per tab. Each ingredient on a row, and I listed its weight. Then I reordered the recipe by weight, so I could accurately list the ingredients by weight on the label I was submitting in my application. Fun fact: when my application was returned to me the last time, she questioned the order of an ingredient on a recipe. I responded nerdily, “I double-checked the weight for espresso powder and I believe it’s correct between the baking soda and the salt. The baking soda is .09 oz, espresso powder is .075 oz, and the salt is .06 oz.” Her response was “As long as you know what the exact weights are for each ingredient in case you need to verify the order than I am totally ok with accepting the order you have them in.” So: know your weights. Actually know them.
Make sure you get all your sub-ingredients and their sub-ingredients. Butter (sweet cream [milk], salt). Vanilla extract (vanilla bean extractives in water and alcohol [41%]). Anything with milk must be labeled that way – buttermilk (milk). If you miss something, it will come back to you. And don’t forget to check the sub-ingredients for allergens – soy & coconut like to sneak in there.
Another thing I had to figure out was alcohol content. Since I was planning to sell honey whiskey cupcakes, whiskey buttercream, and dark chocolate stout cupcakes, I needed to be able to prove that those recipes contained less than 1% alcohol content by volume at the end. Contrary to popular belief, not all alcohol “bakes out.” Because I am bad at math, this was a really challenging part of the application and I agonized over it for ages. I finally turned to Facebook for help, because I have loads of incredibly smart friends in a wide variety of fields. Sure enough, an old friend popped up almost right away and was able to give me a formula to figure it out.
If you’re actually curious about the math, here’s how it all went down. Using the link above, I was able to figure out that alcohol mixed into a batter and baked 20 minutes retains about 37% of its original ABV (15 minutes is 40% and 20 minutes is 35%, so I hedged a guess). My friend gave me the formula ((volume of beer * ABV)) / (total volume). I already know that a regular size cupcake is 3 tablespoons of batter, and the recipe for the stout cupcakes, for example, makes 24 cupcakes. 24 cupcakes at 3 tablespoons each is 72 tablespoons, or 4.5 cups, or 36 ounces. The recipe uses one cup (8 ounces) of 8% ABV beer. So, the formula would be ((8 * .08)/36) = .01777…. which comes out to approximately 1.8%. 37% of 1.8% would remain after 20 mins of baking = .7%, which is less than 1%, which meets the legal requirements to sell the cupcakes. Yay!
…so you may see why that part really gave me issues! I have an English degree for pete’s sake! I do at least remember that whole “is over of equals percent over 100” formula from a million years ago, though. I was laughing about how excited I was to get all that figured out, because math has never excited me. I guess when it involves cupcakes, even math can be pretty cool? …Hmmm. Maybe don’t quote me on that!
Finally, I had it all. All the weights ordered, all the allergens listed, all the alcohol math done. I printed my recipe list, printed and numbered my recipes, printed up the labels and stuck them on the recipes – and partway through that process, I ran out of labels. No problem, I thought, I will just go back to Office Depot and get more. Except for some reason, Office Depot didn’t have the ones I’d bought there before, at that very exact same store. I spent way too long standing in the aisle, staring, not wanting to believe it. I looked at other aisles. I looked at endcaps. Finally, I accepted my fate and grabbed a very fat package of similarly-sized labels and went home and GUESS WHAT. They were just very slightly different and as a result, none of the templates I’d done printed on them properly. I had to re-do them all. I had to copy and paste every single one into a NEW label template to make them fit properly and print out inside the labels instead of printing such that the first letter of every line was cut off. OH MAN WHAT A WAY TO SPEND AN EVENING.
Finally done. Scanned everything in, emailed to the nice lady, had one more return for a minor thing that I took care of immediately, and then she said, “yay you are done! We will send someone to your house!” Next thing I know a very nice man has called me up and scheduled a house visit. I worked from home that day and spent the night before cleaning my kitchen like a crazy person. He showed up and said, “this is basically just a formality. Make sure you, you know, have a kitchen and an oven and you don’t have 50 cats and nothing just horribly wrong. Your application is so intense and detailed that we pretty much have everything there.” Intense and detailed? YOU DON’T SAY. So he walked into my kitchen and said, “yep, there’s your oven, your sink, your dishwasher.” I showed him the pantry and he signed a paper saying my place looked good. Then my permit was emailed to me. When I got it, I just kind of sat there and stared at it for a while like, wow. All that… months of work… and here it is. An email. My permit. It’s HERE. It’s REAL. Everything is now in place and I’m a real, honest, legal Cottage Food Operation bakery! It was such a huge moment, and yet so small at the same time. Very surreal.
Isn’t this fun!? Don’t you just wanna rush right into starting your own Cottage Food Operation now?? OH MAN. Just wait. Next time I’ll write about things like health department temporary food service permits for festivals, food liability insurance, gofundme campaigns to afford all this rabble, and who knows what else I’ll remember to talk about! Merchandising? Advertising? Bookkeeping? Wheeeeeeee!