Does it matter if I buy my cake from a licensed bakery?

Have you ever wondered what it means to be a licensed bakery or what the difference is between a licensed and unlicensed bakery? With COVID-19 cases spiking again, I thought I would discuss this topic a bit today.

In California (and many other states for that matter), there is a Cottage Food Law that permits individuals to bake and sell certain foods from their home-based kitchens. However, before beginning operations, the individual is required to obtain a business permit and meet certain licensing requirements pursuant to the California Health and Safety Code.

Although the Health and Safety requirements are the same throughout the state, the process for obtaining a license varies slightly depending on the operator’s county. I won’t bore you with the process involved in the County of Los Angeles. However, here are some of the requirements all home-based licensed operators must meet:

  • We must only prepare and sell (or gift) foods that are on the approved food list, which are items that the California Department of Public Health considers to be “non-hazardous”.
  • We must periodically complete a food processor training course through an approved vendor.
  • We must implement and follow sanitation processes. I’ll talk more about this in a minute.
  • We must package products with state and federally compliant labels.

So what does all this mean? The short version is that it helps to keep you safer. How? Well, in a couple of ways. First, Little Z’s Cakery, along with all other licensed home-based bakeries, is limited to the types of baked goods we can sell. Certain foods, like cream cheese and eggs, require refrigeration. Home-based bakeries are prohibited from selling frostings made with cream cheese or whipped cream. They are even prohibited from selling Royal Icing, a popular icing used on decorated sugar cookies, because it contains egg whites and/or meringue powder (an egg-based product). When you look at our menu, you will notice our frostings are American Buttercream, which do not require any eggs or milk. This means that your cake and cupcakes are safe to sit on the counter during your party or even to store leftovers for a few days unrefrigerated. We use a thick, opaque Glaze on our decorated cookies. Personally, I think Glaze tastes better than Royal Icing. It’s still firm but doesn’t have that hard crunch that some decorated cookies do. But, the truth is, we use Glaze because that is what is required.

Remember one of the other requirements is to follow sanitation processes? Health and Safety requirements stipulate that all equipment be washed, rinsed, sanitized and air dried (if washing by hand) prior to using the equipment. Yes, you read that right. We must wash and sanitize equipment before we bake. You got it, that means we clean up and do dishes TWICE for every cake we bake. Once before we even start baking, and then again after we have baked. Not that I’m complaining. This is the view from my kitchen window!

Also, pets and small children are not permitted to be in the kitchen while customers’ products are being baked. So if you have purchased from a licensed baker, you should have the added comfort that their cat wasn’t climbing on the counters while the mixer was going.

Those of us that don’t have food allergies take it for granted, but those with allergies or sensitivities are limited in what foods they can enjoy. We are required to attach a label to every item that lists (in the order of weight) all the ingredients in the item and to identify if it includes any of the eight (8) major food allergens. Little Z’s Cakery wants everyone to be able to enjoy dessert, and we try our best to accommodate requests for allergy-friendly treats. We also understand that our customers may need to confirm ingredients in a baked good prior to eating/serving it.

Does all of this mean that an unlicensed baker is unsafe? Absolutely not! But as a customer, you may have less comfort that appropriate measures are being taken to keep you, your family, and your friends safe. When we are not able to fulfill an order, we only recommend other licensed bakeries. And on that note, if you have enjoyed a cake or cookies from another licensed home-based baker, please shoot us an email. There are not many in the South Bay, and we are always looking to expand our list for recommendations. I will personally reach out to the other baker, introduce myself, share your rave recommendation (what baker doesn’t like to hear the positive feedback!?), and try to begin to build a relationship. There is plenty of baking to be shared, and I would love the opportunity to support another local baker.

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