Using a Commercial Kitchen
In California, food made in the home cannot be sold to consumers. However, if you only handle in-state sales directly to the final consumer then you are considered a food service or retail operation and you can prepare food in a commercial kitchen. Exceptions to this are meats or meat-containing products or if you are canning a non-acidic or acidified product (such as pickles). Commercial kitchens are usually inspected by the county Department of Environmental Health and must meet the California Retail Food Code -CalCode (PDF 395k). Contact the department in the county where the commercial kitchen is located.
Establishing a Food Processing Facility
Only foods prepared in a food processing facility can be sold at the wholesale level. To establish your own food processing facility you must be able to satisfy certain regulations. The most basic of these is the "Current Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) Regulations". Commercial kitchens will typically meet GMPs and are a viable option for someone starting small. However, you must register as a California food processing establishment even if you are only using the facility part time. You will be assessed a fee based on your size and projected sales volume. In California, you will be inspected prior to production and this inspection will often include a review of your package label in addition to the facility itself. More recently, all food processing facilities are also required to register with the federal government under the Bioterrorism Act of 2002.
Using a Co-Packer
Co-packers are food processors that have extra manufacturing capacity and offer their services for a fee. This is often an attractive option for people starting in the food business. The product and its package must be matched to the co-packer and its available equipment. Co-packers often offer additional services such as product development (often critical to scaling up the volume of product produced), label review, and regulatory compliance.
- Choosing and Using a Co-packer (North Carolina State University) (PDF 26 KB)
- Co-Packers Database
This database provides a partial list of co-packers with an emphasis on those located in California.
This brochure from Kansas State University goes through some of the considerations important in purchasing a filling machine for use in a small food processing operation.
This brochure from Kansas State University points out some of the important considerations in selection of food packaging containers.