Here are some more open questions about some of the nuts and bolts about how homemade food enterprises would be regulated under an expanded law.
Same Day Service
Environmental health regulators have tentatively and informally proposed that if sales of homemade foods that are more perishable (such as hot meals, salads, etc) are allowed, then foods should be prepared and served all in one day. Controlling temperature is an important element of food safety and regulators are worried that if home cooks prepare any food multiple days in advance, then refrigerate or freeze foods, then reheat them before serving, there is more room for errors and more potential for harmful bacteria or other microorganisms to grow in the food. In regular commercial kitchens, cooks can prepare foods and keep them in the refrigerator for a few days before serving. Environmental health regulators have identified this practice as a common risk point because in large batches of some hot foods, it can take a long time for the whole batch to cool to a safe temperature for storage, and the amount of time it takes to cool the food can make a big difference in the potential growth of bacteria.
However, several home cooks have already pointed out that making certain sauces or other components of their foods ahead of time is a very common practice and arguably necessary for making certain foods at scales appropriate for even low-volume sales. Additionally, some home cooks have expressed a desire to make certain perishable foods, such as tamales, dumplings, ice cream, and other foods in large quantities to freeze so they can be sold in small quantities throughout the week or month. A same day service requirement would not be compatible with these food preparation strategies.
In order for homemade foods to be made ahead of time safely, perhaps further requirements for proper cooling and reheating would be needed, such as requiring that refrigerators in home kitchens maintain a certain maximum temperature and requiring cooks regularly monitor the temperature, in addition to regular inspections or other strategies for ensuring food safety.
Further feedback and discussion on the subject of preparing food days ahead would be helpful.
Limits on Sales Figures or Other Limits on Volume
The current Homemade Food Act (aka “Cottage Food Law”) limits gross annual sales of cottage food operations to $50,000 total. While most cottage food producers do not meet this limit, some are understandably upset that the law imposes a limit on the amount of revenue that their business can earn, and especially that the limit is so low. Cost of ingredients for a food processing business can be as high as half of the selling price of the product (there is great variety in this area) and cottage food operators typically have at least a few thousand dollars in non-ingredient expenses including various permit and business license fees, website and marketing materials, packaging, and sometimes equipment. Some cottage food operators hire accountants or other specialists to help with certain aspects of their business. So the money left out of $50,000 for the home food producer to pay for their own labor can come out to below a living wage in California.
Environmental health regulators advocated for a limit to gross annual sales for cottage food operations when the California Homemade Food Act of 2012 (AB 1616, Gatto) was pending in the legislature and their representatives have tentatively suggested that this sales limit or a similar limit apply to newly allowed hot homemade food sales. While the sales limit figures are mostly arbitrary numbers, the rationale for a sales limit is to ensure that home-based food businesses are operating on a small-scale to avoid great impacts on the surrounding neighborhood and to keep food safety risks low. Additionally, some regulators and business interests have expressed concern about homemade food laws being unfair to established food businesses that endured all the expense and hassle of obtaining certified commercial grade equipment and fixtures for their facilities, so a low limit on sales in homemade food operations is desired by some interests.
Additionally, advocates for opening up opportunities for home-based food businesses may suggest alternative limits that ensure homemade food businesses remain small-scale, but within limits that are more reasonable than the $50,000 gross annual sales limit.
Other possible limits on scale of homemade food business could include limits on the number of ovens or refrigerators, limits on the number of square feet of space within the home used for the business (as in already a common restriction in city zoning codes for “home occupations”), limits on the number of employees (as already exists in the “cottage food law”), limits on the number of meals or other units of food sold, or other creative ideas. We are not sure what would be the most appropriate limits - factors to consider include providing flexibility and opportunities for modest growth for home cooks, adhering to the spirit of homemade food and local economies, and feasibility of enforcement.
Feedback is welcome in this area.
Want to know more about what we’re thinking at the Sustainable Economies Law Center? Click here to return to our Expanding California's Homemade Food Sales Law page with lots of ideas and analysis.