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On Jan 1, 2019, California passed AB 626, which allows home cooks to sell food to the public. The law requires vendors to qualify for a permit at the county level. Therefore, it’s up to each county to put a permitting and licensing process in place for prospective business owners. Not all counties have opted into microenterprise home kitchen operation or MEHKO laws, but more are coming on board every year. AB 626 was the first of this kind and Utah, Washington and other states are working hard to implement or establish their own legislation to lower barriers for home food sellers.
So, what is a microenterprise home kitchen? A MEHKO is a residential food storage, preparation and serving facility. All food sold must be cooked on the same day it’s sold. Additionally, there is a limit of 30 meals per day or 60 per week for each home kitchen.
To sell food from a home kitchen in California, Utah or Washington, you first need a food license. This requires you to set up your kitchen based on information from the county public health department. Typically, this requires a separate kitchen counter and equipment, such as a refrigerator or stove, dedicated to the business. There are other rules that apply such as a three-compartment sink, and any other stipulations noted by the health department in your county.
A cottage certificate gives home-based businesses verification that they meet the standards of the local health department. This certificate gives customers confidence that you prepare and serve food in a sanitary environment. Nearly every state has some form of cottage laws, and different counties may have a unique permitting process.
If you are interested in opening up a microenterprise home kitchen in California, it's important to get in touch with your county public health administration. Although the state has passed AB 626, it's up to each county to implement a permit and licensing process for home kitchens.
Yes, but only if your county has established a permitting system and opted into California’s MEHKO laws. For this to happen, your county has to “opt-in” to the new law. This means that the County Board of Supervisors or equivalent must adopt a resolution that allows home food facilities. Then, the health department can formulate a permit and inspection procedure. Once the final process is approved, prospective home business owners can begin the application process, which is usually completed online. On average, it takes about 20 days to complete this process in counties that have already approved home kitchens.
Home kitchens cannot exceed $50,000 in annual food sales. If you open a MEHKO, it's important to keep track of gross sales so that you don't exceed this amount. Additionally, you'll need to keep receipts to verify your food sales. This number increases to adjust for inflation. So, it is likely to continue to increase slightly each year.
Home businesses must register with the state in order to sell food products. Allowed food products include the following.
You’ll need a home bakery license in California to sell baked goods without custard, meat fillings and cream fillings. However, you can include biscuits, breads, pastries, churros, tortillas and cookies on your menu.
Other allowed foods include the following:
This isn't a complete list, but it gives you an idea of the types of permissible products. Check with your local health department to find out if the products you want to sell are permissible under local and state laws.
In order to operate a home kitchen, you need a permit. There are two types of permits to choose from. The one you need depends on whether you will sell directly to customers or distribute your goods through shops and restaurants.
Here are the two permit classes:
See California Health and Safety Code § 113758 for more information.
As a reminder, each participating county has its own MEHKO permit process. Most counties require comprehensive inspections regarding sanitation and other aspects of your home kitchen. In order to obtain a license, your home business must pass this inspection or address any issues that come up as part of the inspection process.
Although we have covered several counties below, It's important to remember that other counties are continuously coming on board period to find out more about microenterprise home kitchen operation laws in your county, research the requirements online or speak to local public health officials.
Riverside County was the first county to embrace the MEHKO laws. The Riverside County cottage food permit process has, therefore, served as a model for other counties that have implemented or wish to implement their own microenterprise kitchen laws.
Riverside County requires applicants to submit various forms including standard operating procedures. One of the things that you'll need is a full menu to submit as part of your permit application. Additionally, the owner of the home kitchen business will need to obtain certifications for both food management and handling.
In order to prepare and sell food to the public, owners must complete this certification. Inspectors from the county evaluate home kitchens on an appointment basis, giving you plenty of time to organize your facility. Inspections typically focus on eating spaces, food prep areas, refuge storage, cleaning facilities and storage rooms.
Inspectors will also look at how you transport utensils, food and ingredients. You cannot use an enclosed garage, patio or rooms designated as bedrooms for your home kitchen facility. Additionally, storage facilities must be in the main building.
Prospective home kitchen operators must pay a hefty application fee that covers the inspection and application process. Find out more about MEHKO requirements in Riverside County.
If you want to open a home kitchen in San Mateo County, you first must get your food manager certification. Then, you can submit the documents required by the health department. Next, county officials will schedule an inspection of your home. Much like Riverside County, inspections in San Mateo focus on the kitchen, storage rooms, and the cleanliness of the entire facility.
You can now also open a MEHKO in Los Angeles. As in other counties, you'll need a MEHKO permit for Los Angeles. The application process for microenterprise home kitchen operations in Los Angeles is fairly straightforward. Those interested in selling food from home in Los Angeles pay around $250 for a permit after completing their certification in food management.
Prospective MEHKO owners submit their paperwork through the county health department. Once you have submitted all the required paperwork, an inspector will schedule an appointment to evaluate your facility. Depending on your food operations and location, you may have additional clearances and licensing before you can open your doors.
You need a San Francisco business license to open a MEHKO business in San Francisco. To operate a microenterprise home kitchen in San Francisco, you must obtain a food management certification and pass an inspection by the county.
In order to operate a home kitchen in San Francisco, you also need a San Francisco cottage food permit. These businesses are relatively new to the city on the bay. After meeting all requirements such as a food permit, San Francisco entrepreneurs can open for business.
It was only a short while ago that the first MEHKO opened in Alameda County. Although the county has a similar permitting and licensing process as other counties, it's important to contact the county public health agency for information on specific requirements.
The Alameda County food permit is fairly simple to fill out.
You need a seller's permit in Sacramento in addition to a MEHKO permit. Once you meet the requirements for food management certification and receive an inspection, you can earn your cottage food permit in Sacramento.
If you live in other counties that have opted into MEHKOs, you’ll need to understand the rules in your county, including those influencing your microenterprise home kitchen in Contra Costa County or microenterprise home kitchens in San Bernardino County.
Are you wondering how to start a food business in Washington state? Washington is working on passing its own MEHKO laws. Currently, the Washington State House of Representatives is considering house bill 1258 Washington state. This bill would allow home kitchens to sell food in the state.
Although the state has had cottage food laws since 2011 (Cottage Food Law RCW 69.22. 030), the new bill broadens the regulation to relax home kitchen rules, which are less stringent than other commercial kitchen requirements in Washington state.
As you can see, the MEHKO is growing. This is a great time to find out what it takes to start your own home kitchen business in California, Utah or Washington.