Gov. Jerry Brown signed the “cottage food” bill, first introduced in 2017.
Whether it’s homemade tamales, dumplings, or grandma’s recipe for chocolate chip cookies, receiving the compliment “I’d pay for that” can be the spark that inspires a budding entrepreneur to set up shop. But with the high overhead cost associated with leasing, renovating, and operating a restaurant or storefront, it’s understandable that some cooks would rather attempt to run a business out of their home kitchen. Unfortunately, that practice has varying levels of legality depending on which state you live in. But for California, the ability to run an on-the-level home-based food business is possible thanks to a bill signed by Governor Jerry Brown this week.
First introduced to the California State Assembly in 2017, AB626 sought to legalize and regulate an already existing underground industry of home cooks selling dishes. “It decriminalizes a practice that has been going on for a long time and creates an economic empowerment opportunity for people who want to make a living from something they already do at home and enjoy doing,” bill sponsor State Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia said. As the San Francisco Chronicle points out, homemade dumplings were already being hocked on apps like WeChat, while tamales sold at church functions were providing a source of additional income. But in both those instances, the sale of those foods wasn’t exactly legal. With the enacting of the new law, those same entrepreneurs will be able to apply for a license to operate without fear of being shut down, while ensuring proper training and safety protocols are followed for public safety.
To operate a home kitchen, the owner can be granted a permit by obtaining a food managers’ certification (the same standard for the restaurant industry), and have their kitchen inspected, and are subject to possible drop-in inspections in the future. Cooks can then sell food directly to consumers, but may not use delivery services or the post office to do so. Once income from a home kitchen business reaches $50,000, the operation must move to a commercial kitchen.
Previously in the state, residents could sell items with a lower risk of foodborne illnesses, such as pickles, jams, or other preserves. That was thanks to the California Homemade Food Act passed in 2012.