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Cannery inspection and licensing program

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Food & Drug Branch

(800) 495-3232

Frequently Asked Questions

Q)  Why do I need a cannery license?

A)  Certain shelf stable foods that are packaged in sealed containers may allow the growth of bacteria that causes botulism, a serious foodborne disease.  Processors of these potentially hazardous foods are required by law to obtain a cannery license.

 

Q)  What is a low acid food?

A) Acidity is measured on a "pH scale" of 0-14. Zero being the most acidic level.  The moisture content of food is measured as "water activity" (Aw). A low-acid food is a food with a pH value greater than 4.6 and Aw greater than 0.85. 

Abbeon a w-Value Analyzer (a hair hygrometer).

 

Q) What is an acidified food?

A) Acidified foods means low-acid foods to which an acid or acid food is added.

 

Q) How can I check the water activity of my product?

A) Water activity can be measured with a hygrometer, moisture meter, humidity meter, or you may submit samples for analysis to a qualified lab.  Initial screening Most foods have a water activity above 0.95 and that will provide sufficient moisture to support the growth of bacteria, yeasts, and mold.

Electronic instruments suitable for confirmation tests are:

1.  Beckman Hygroline Moisture Meter; Nova Sina/Rotronic Moisture-Humidity Meters

2.  Hygrodynamic Hygrometer

3.  WeatherMeasure Relative Humidity System

 

Q) How can I check the pH of my product?

A) The relative acidity of food is measured using a pH scale.  A temperature compensating pH meter is a device used to measure pH. A low pH, below 4.6, will prevent the growth of potentially deadly spoilage bacteria in canned foods. A food with a natural pH above 4.6 may support the growth of potentially deadly spoilage bacteria

 

Q) How soon can I distribute my product after my inspection?

A) After your initial inspection. The department will determine if you meet the licensing and regulatory requirements to operate a cannery firm.  Approval for cannery license takes approximately 60 days. Once approved to operate you are required to contact the department for batch releases of each lot of product manufactured under the program.  You may distribute your product after the department, in writing,  releases your product for shipment.

 

Q) I received my cannery license, is it ok to start distributing my product?

A) No, you are required to contact the assigned inspector for batch releases of each lot of product manufactured under the program.  You may distribute your product after the department, in writing,  releases your product for shipment.

 

Q) Why does my product need to be evaluated every time I process?

A) Low acid and acidified foods packed in hermetically sealed containers may support the growth of potentially deadly spoilage bacteria. These products must be processed by a department approved official scheduled process.  Inspectors will evaluate your production records and manufacturing practices in order to ensure that your product was made in a sanitary facility, and according to the official scheduled process.  The evaluation ensures that adulterated product is not released for distribution.

 

Q) What is a batch release? What is a cannery release?

A) A batch/cannery release is a standardized inspection/evaluation to determine if your product is safe for distribution.  The department will, in writing, release for shipment all products that were adequately manufactured.

 

Q) My product is made according to the official scheduled process, why do I still need a cannery release?

A) During a cannery release, an Inspector will evaluate your production records and manufacturing practices in order to verify that your product was made according to the official scheduled process. 

 

Q) How can I get out of the cannery inspection program?

A) Products that eliminate the hazard for clostridium botulinum growth may be processed under a Processed Food Registration (PFR) program.  C. bot may be eliminated as a reasonable hazard via reformulation, packaging in oxygen permeable containers, holding under refrigeration, or frozen.

 

Q) My product is not canned, why do I need a cannery license?

A) Even if your product is not "canned", it may fall under the cannery regulation and require a Cannery license. Generally, any low acid food in a hermetically sealed container is considered "canned." A hermetically sealed container is airtight packaging which prevents the entry of microorganisms and maintains the commercial sterility of the contents. 

 

Q) How long will it take to get my license?

A) The licensing process varies on the complexity and readiness of your operation.  Generally the process takes three to four months, including the issuance of an official scheduled process letter.

Q) Are non-pasteurized pickling accepted under the canning program?

A) If you intend to pack, hold, ship and display your product at refrigeration temperatures, you can manufacture you product under a Processed Food Registration (PFR), not a cannery license.  If you do not intend to use refrigeration to maintain the safety of the product, you may need a cannery license.  

Q) In terms of a kitchen, do you need to have a commercial kitchen?

A) Yes.  We only license commercial manufacturing establishments.

 

Q) For the pH form, when I send my sample, is there a specific way the sample must be shipped/packaged/bottled? 

A) You should submit your samples to the laboratory in the SAME container and closure as you intend to use in the marketplace.  Please be sure to pack the samples in a manner to ensure they do not break in transit.  Product in broken containers will not be examined by our laboratory and you will have to reship new samples.

 

Q) For the Cannery License, I see it requires a firm name. Do I need to first register as a business before I can try to get a Cannery License? 

A) We do not require companies to register for a business license with California Secretary of State prior to applying for one of our licenses/certificates/registrations.  You need to contact them for information on how to apply for a fictitious business name.

 

Q) I will be making hot sauces, pepper jam, and pickles. All are made with low-acid foods that have been acidified with vinegar to below 4.6 pH. From what I understand, in order to be able to produce these items with a PFR instead of a cannery license they would need to have water activity below .85; is that correct? 

A) Generally, a processed food with a water activity below 0.85 would not fall under our Cannery Inspection Program.  It would fall in our Processed Food Registration (PFR) program.  However, depending on the pH of the raw materials you are using and the equilibrium pH of the finished product, it may still be required to be manufactured under a cannery license.

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