Understand California cottage food rules

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Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations

New Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operation (MEHKO) laws have undoubtedly opened doors for California entrepreneurs interested in the cottage food business. Operators take advantage of AB 626, which permits food storage, preparation, and sales to customers. 

Microenterprise home kitchen San Francisco laws compel vendors to serve a maximum of 30 meals per day. At the same time, the law requires operators to serve the meals within the specified timeframe after cooking.

In the past, the California Retail Food Code (CRFC) prohibited cottage food sales. Only meals prepared in inspected commercial kitchens were eligible for sale to the public. 

Thankfully, the California Homemade Food Act changed the situation by allowing the selling of low-risk foods that do not depend on temperature or time controls to retain freshness. These foods include jams, baked goods, dried fruit, and other shelf-stable, non-perishable foods. 

Former Governor Jerry Brown got the ball rolling in 2018 by signing Assembly Bill 626 (AB 626). This bill amended the CRFC, paving the way for legally recognized microenterprise home kitchen operations. As a result, MEHKOs could start operating as eateries in homes across California. 

Once the Governor signed the bill, counties could adopt specific protocols applicable to residents in their jurisdictions. Thus, cottage food vendors can expect customized rules, depending on their home county rules. 

MEHKO Guidelines and Restrictions

Microenterprise home kitchen LA county and MEHKO Riverside residents need to adhere to specific guidelines and restrictions. MEHKOs in various counties cannot sell food through established businesses like local restaurants and grocery shops. 

This requirement also compels operators to conduct sales at the approved residential premises. Microenterprise home kitchen Sacramento operations should also avoid producing or selling raw milk products to customers. The restrictions also pertain to selling raw oysters. 

No microenterprise home kitchen Riverside county activities should involve processes requiring a HACCP plan. The Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points system focuses on mitigating the risk of foodborne illness. This system enables authorities to take a holistic approach to monitor food production and preparation processes. 

By monitoring various processes from harvesting to consumption, authorities prevent foodborne hazards before they affect public health. Cottage foods should not include ice cream and various dairy products. Likewise, MEHKO Los Angeles operators cannot sell alcoholic beverages or any goods containing alcohol without obtaining relevant licenses from state authorities.

Bill Modifications

While Assembly Bill 626 (AB 626) helped clear the way for food vendors in California, some parts of its statutory framework lacked regulatory clarity. For this reason, lawmakers introduced Assembly Bill 377 (AB 377), which resolved minor issues identified in AB 626. 

Fundamental changes to the original bill include the provision for counties, including microenterprise home kitchen Riverside County, to opt-in and launch local programs. As such, counties can authorize custom MEHKO packages for cities within their jurisdictions. The new bill empowered LA county MEHKO and other counties to exercise discretion regarding local operations.

The Department of Environmental Health (DEH) can only issue health permits to vendors if the county authorizes MEHKO California operations. Operating without a health permit is illegal. 

AB 626

Introduced on January 1, 2019, AB 626 is crucial legislation for MEHKOs across California. Riverside became the first county to embrace the bill and authorize residents to engage in home cooking operations. The county helped other jurisdictions assess the viability of such a program. Many counties were apprehensive about adopting the approach in the early stages due to health risk fears.

Riverside county proved that MEHKOs could operate sustainably by ensuring a 100 percent safety record. In turn, many food entrepreneurs found a solution to their problems, thanks to early adoption by AB 626 Riverside County. Gaining access to health permits is a critical first step to running a food business legally from residential premises. 

AB 626 2020 creates economic opportunities in a sector that lays off a significant number of workers periodically. Operators take advantage of several provisions to run their businesses more efficiently. For instance, the bill exempts entrepreneurs from adhering to handwashing facilities requirements. Instead, vendors can provide a sink with warm water. 

Exemptions also apply to machine sanitation and warewashing equipment provided MEHKO entrepreneurs’ homes have fixtures with hot and cold water. Unlike commercial food operations, the law allows outsiders to access the food facility. Hence, family members and other visitors not involved in food preparation can access food storage and warewashing areas.

AB 377

This assembly bill focuses on jurisdiction matters, food safety, permits, and food delivery. County authorization is the main issue clarified by AB 377. Cities in a jurisdiction can receive authorization from the county irrespective of whether they separately allow home cooking operations. 

AB 377 outlines specific details about the use of wood in home kitchens when it comes to food safety. It also touches on the presence of pets in the food preparation facilities. The bill clarifies issues concerning provisions listed on MEHKO permits, such as non-binding operating times.

On the other hand, it deals with various aspects of inspections: emergency, routine, and investigational. The legislation also spells out food delivery matters to eliminate ambiguity regarding deliveries by third parties. This provision enables customers with disabilities to order food from any location within a county.

AB 626 Alameda County

County officials are working tirelessly to enable home cooking operations to proceed. However, the health department has voiced concerns over the move. Advocates of the bill highlighted the need to authorize residents to sell food from home, given the challenges triggered by the pandemic. 

Alameda is keen to follow Riverside County, which successfully issued permits for microenterprise home kitchen operations. Some counties like San Mateo and Solano opted in but are still working on permit application processes. Some county officials recommended delaying the implementation process to ensure the formulation of effective inspection and enforcement plans. 

Key considerations include preventing building and fire code violations. The officials want to address potential issues regarding traffic and parking in a practical way. Waste disposal is also a critical consideration because some analysts expressed concern that operators may dump a large number of fats and oils into sewer lines. 

AB 626 Riverside County

Riverside County has issued many MEHKO permits since in the middle of 2019. However, some residents and analysts argue that the county’s annual permit fees are incredibly high. By charging exorbitant fees, the county undermines many residents' ability to tap into the economic opportunities presented by AB 626. 

Microenterprise Home Kitchen Application

Counties employ wide-ranging microenterprise home kitchen permit application processes. In most cases, officials perform comprehensive home kitchen inspections. To obtain a license, applicants must pass the inspection, among other conditions.  

Here are some key application process details by county.

Riverside County Cottage Food Permit

County officials require all applicants to submit standard operating procedures and fill forms for health permit applications. The menu is an essential part of the operating procedures covered by the application process. Additionally, Riverside County residents should obtain a food management and handling certification. 

Certification is necessary for owners and other persons involved in the food preparation process. Officials conduct home kitchen inspections after the applicant schedules an appointment with the county health officials. The inspection focuses on various areas, including refuse storage areas, eating spaces, storage rooms, and cleaning facilities. 

Inspectors also scrutinize vehicles used to transport ingredients, appliances, utensils, and food. The law does not allow operators to use detached buildings as MEHKO facilities. These buildings include enclosed patios, garages, and rooms used as bedrooms. Storage facilities must form part of the main building. 

As of June 2019, Riverside County cottage food permit application fees are $651. Prospective MEHKO operators pay this fee to cover the application and inspection.  

San Mateo County

To apply for a home kitchen operation in San Mateo County, prospective operators must obtain food manager certification. Once certified, they can submit relevant documents to the county health department. The officials schedule a kitchen inspection at the applicant’s home. Thus, it is vital to prepare the MEHKO facilities, including kitchen, cleaning, and storage rooms, for inspection. 

Although unclear, the MEHKO permit fee for San Mateo is likely identical to cottage food permits, which stands at $386. 

MEHKO Permit Los Angeles County

The application process for the MEHKO permit in Los Angeles County is straightforward. Applicants pay approximately $250 for the permit after completing food manager certification courses. Prospective MEHKO operators apply via the Los Angeles County’s health department. 

Once the department officials review the documents and inspect the MEHKO facilities, they will approve or decline the application. The business may require additional licenses and clearances, depending on the location and food operations. 

Closing Thoughts

Information about permit applications, including San Bernardino County health permit fees, is scarce in other counties. However, applicants can easily determine the requirements for kitchen, storage, and cleaning facilities before the inspection. For instance, MEHKO Santa Clara and Solano County MEHKO inspectors may focus on the location of trash cans and hand washing sinks, among other considerations. 

The rules allow microenterprise home kitchen Contra Costa County operators to wash dishes manually or use a machine. On the other hand, single-use paper towels must be available next to the handwashing fixtures. A food thermometer is also vital when looking to pass the microenterprise home kitchen application and obtain the Alameda County home kitchen permit.

Additional Resources

Cottage Food Law Michigan | Cottage Food Law Wisconsin | Cottage Food Laws Florida | Cottage Food License | Cottage Food Sales Tax | Cottage Industry Laws | Home Food Laws | Laws About Selling Homemade Food | Laws on Selling Food From Home | License to Cook and Sell Food From Home | Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations | Permit to Sell Food From Home | Permit to Sell Food From Home California | Rules for Selling Food From Home

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