Expanding California's Homemade Food Sales Law

There's been a lot of discussion around California about expanding the scope of foods allowed to be sold from a home kitchen. It's really exciting! There are also many complicated details to work out. We'll be keeping this page updated as the situation develops. Check here for blogs, policy proposals, and announcements about upcoming events on the topic of changing laws around selling homemade food in California.

Current California Law: For information about the current law, the California Homemade Food Act, (aka "cottage food" law) and legal information on how to start a home-based food business now, click here.

Our Policy Proposal: Click here to download our summary proposal (3 page pdf).

Click here to download our full policy proposal (8 page pdf).

 Blogs: Our Food News Blog posts about expanding the law around homemade food in California:

 

Please write to Christina@theselc.org if you have concise feedback to share via email or if you’d like to invite us to a more in-depth conversation with your organization or community group.

 

Background

 

In 2012 the Sustainable Economies Law Center along with numerous active partners successfully advocated for the passage of the California Homemade Food Act (AB 1616, Gatto), also commonly known as California’s “cottage food law.” Thousands of small food businesses have been formed under the law since its implementation. However, it has become clear that countless consumers and food producers alike would prefer for the law to allow sales of homemade foods that are currently not allowed under the Homemade Food Act. The Homemade Food Act only allows certain “non-potentially hazardous” foods such as breads, pies, fruit jams, and numerous dried foods to be made in a home kitchen and offered for sale. Selling hot meals, green salads, frozen foods, and many other foods prepared in a home kitchen are not allowed under the law. These foods must be made in an inspected commercial kitchen. The California Retail Food Code (found within the Health and Safety Code) does not allow a home kitchen to be used as a commercial kitchen except under the parameters of the Homemade Food Act and very narrow occasional exceptions for bake sales organized by charitable organizations.

 

It is a crime to violate these laws - fines and jail time can be consequences for violations - yet violations of these laws occur frequently. Recently, numerous technology start-ups have developed web-based platforms that advertise home cooked meals for sale. Some offer consumers the chance to dine at the cook’s home, while others invite consumers to pick up a take-out meal from the cook’s home. The Sustainable Economies Law Center has received about a dozen inquiries from entrepreneurs seeking legal assistance to develop such web platforms.

 

Some have called these platforms “the Airbnb of food” or “the Uber for food” such as in this recent article in The Atlantic. Many of these start-ups have received large investments from private investors who likely hope to receive large profits from the enterprise. Numerous safety and economic concerns have been raised about the proliferation of these web platforms in our daily lives.

 

Earlier this year home cooks using one such web platform - at Josephine.com - received cease and desist letters from local health regulators as did Josephine the enterprise. Many stakeholders have identified the need to rethink the law around homemade food in California, including representatives of the California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health (the association of environmental health departments in California).

 

The Sustainable Economies Law Center has developed a policy proposal that seeks to create a safe, legal, and regulated market for home cooks while mitigating harmful impacts of for-profit web platforms in this sector of the economy. See the policy proposal links above.

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