California Formalizes Burgeoning Cottage Food Industry

by Daniel J. Wohl
Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy Name
Assembly Bill 626; Homemade Food Operations Act (2018)

Location
California, U.S.

Overview
The 2018 Homemade Food Operations Act (AB626) legalizes and regulates the informal network of community-based home-cooks and consumers known as the cottage food industry. AB626 creates the language necessary for home kitchens to be acknowledged as food service facilities with the nomenclature Micro-Enterprise Home Kitchens (MEHKs). It establishes a permitting process, food safety requirements and protocols for inspection of MEHKs as separate from cottage food producers, which are only permitted to sell non-perishable items, and mid-scale commercial facilities such as restaurants or food trucks.

Backed by several tech companies including Airbnb and online platform start-up Appetivo, AB626 enables the sale of homemade foods through an “internet food service intermediary”.   The bill was also heavily supported by community-based groups under the aegis of the COOK Alliance, which collected more than 65,000 signatures in order to help it pass through the state Assembly and Senate unanimously. The passage of this bill marks the first comprehensive steps taken by a state legislature to formalize and empower the long-established informal food industry in California.

Progress to Date
AB626 was introduced to the California State Assembly in February 2017 by Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia (D-56) and was subsequently signed into law in September 2018 by Governor Jerry Brown. In order for the bill to be fully realized throughout the state, individual counties must pass an opt-in resolution to offer home cooks MEHK permits.

Program/ Policy Initiated
September 18, 2018

Food Policy Category
Cottage Food Industry
Regional Food Economies
Food/ service Worker Rights

Program Goals
AB626 seeks to legalize homemade food sold by individuals within their community or through a third-party internet application, while also ensuring food health and safety standards are upheld.

How it works
For individuals to have their home kitchen certified as a MEHK they must first complete the permitting process, which involves a written application, home kitchen inspection, and the submission of their standard operating procedure to the local enforcement agency. This would include information on all food products to be used and the operating hours the kitchen will potentially be used for MEHK purposes. Total start-up fees are no more than $500 to $1000, depending on individual county fee structures and optional liability insurance rates.

While AB626 greatly increases the scope of production for home-cooks, they are limited in scale to no more than 60 individual meals per week and no more than $50,000 in verifiable gross annual sales. All food must be prepared, cooked and delivered to the customer on the same day by an individual related to the MEHK operator. If home-cooks choose to use a third-party internet platform for marketing and sales, that platform must have a transparent fee structure that is easily understood by both the cooks and consumers

Why it’s important
AB626 is landmark legislation, the first to provide a state-sanctioned, formal process of selling homemade food that goes beyond all existing cottage food laws in the U.S. There are currently 32 state-level laws that allow for the production of homemade non-perishable items, or at the very least do not prosecute such behavior. However, the majority of informal food economies are forced to operate under the radar, despite the important role they play in underserved communities and for those afflicted by food apartheid. This bill helps to destigmatize and decriminalize home-cooks and the communities they feed. Concurrently, AB626 opens the door to food entrepreneurs who often exist on narrow profit margins and food service workers who are relegated to the low-paying wages of the commercial food industry.

Learn more

AB626, Homemade Food Operations Act: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180AB626

AB1616, California Homemade Food Act: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201120120AB1616

Cook Alliance: https://www.cookalliance.org/

Appetivo: https://www.appetivo.com/about-appetivo

Point of Contact

Katie Valenzuela Garcia, Principal Consultant
State Capitol, Room 4140
[email protected]
(916) 319-2056


Similar Practices

New York State Home Processing
https://www.agriculture.ny.gov/FS/consumer/FSI-898D_Home_Processor.pdf
Connecticut Cottage Food Operator
https://portal.ct.gov/DCP/Food-and-Standards-Division/Cottage-Food/Cottage-Food-Home

References

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