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California Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operation Can you legally sell food from home in California?

Cottage Food Law

In 2018, California passed a new type of bill (AB 626), which allows for “microenterprise home kitchen operations” (MEHKOs). The law went into effect on January 1st, 2019.

Under this first-of-its-kind law, home cooks can start micro-restaurants from home and sell virtually any kind of food. This varies greatly with most cottage food laws that only let home cooks sell non-perishable foods.

Unfortunately, this law is only available in certain counties, since each county has to create an ordinance to allow the law. Up until 2020, Riverside was the only county to allow MEHKOs, but in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many more counties started adopting the law despite continued resistance from local health departments.

This law comes with plenty of restrictions. Although there are no labeling requirements, there are many other requirements that a home cook needs to adhere to:

  • Live in a county/city that creates an ordinance to allow this law
  • Make and sell your food on the same day
  • Sell directly to customers (no indirect sales)
  • Sell no more than 60 meals per week
  • Stay under the $50,000 annual sales limit
  • Not be a cottage food operation

Although this law has paved the way for a new type of home food business, food freedom laws (like Wyoming’s) also allow for similar mini-restaurants in some states, without so many restrictions. However, unlike this law (AB 626), those laws don’t allow producers to sell items with red meat.

Selling Where can you sell homemade food products?

If your products contain allergens, you must list them on your advertisements. The 8 FDA-recognized allergens are milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans.

Delivery must be made within a safe time period, and food must be held at a safe temperature. Delivery may only be made by you, your employee, a family member, or a household member. In other words, you cannot use a delivery service (like Postmates) to deliver your products. You must have a copy of the driver’s license on file for any delivery driver.

Although you cannot sell through a third-party, you can sell via an online platform. However, that online platform needs to register with the health department and follow a number of rules (section 114367.6 of the bill). This likely means that you would not be able to use a generic online platform (like Facebook) to sell your products.

If you have a permit with your county, but a city in your county has created an ordinance preventing their residents from starting microenterprise home kitchen operations, you can still sell in that city.

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Allowed Foods What food products can you sell from home?

Prohibited Foods

You can make virtually anything with your business, BUT you must prepare and serve it on the same day.

This law is mostly intended for people operating a food service establishment for meals, rather than kitchen staples (like mustard, coffee beans, spice mixes, nuts, jellies, etc).

If your business is focused on non-perishable products, you would likely be better off starting a cottage food operation.

You cannot make anything that requires a HACCP plan. You can see the full list of disallowed items here, but essentially you cannot utilize certain methods to preserve food for long-term storage. Most notably, this would prevent canned goods that are acidified foods, as well as some dehydrated foods. For instance, beef jerky and canned pickled goods would not be allowed. You would likely not be affected by this restriction, since you are required to prepare and serve food on the same day, but it could become a factor if your recipe used one of these homemade items as an ingredient (such as home-canned pickled vegetables).

You cannot use non-commercial meat or fish in your products.

You cannot sell raw oysters, raw milk, or raw milk products.

Limitations How will your home food business be restricted?

Sales are limited to $50,000 per year
This amount is supposed to increase annually, based on inflation.
Sales are limited to 30 meals per day
If you are not selling full meals, then you are limited to the "approximate equivalent of meal components when sold separately". For instance, you could sell a serving of pasta, a side of potatoes, and a side of corn to three different customers and still count it as only "one meal".
Sales are limited to 60 meals per week
If you are not selling full meals, please see above.

Before you can use this law, your county must create an ordinance allowing microenterprise home kitchen operations. This could be, by far, the biggest limitation you face, since there is a good likelihood that your county may never allow these businesses, and even if they do, it may take months, or sometimes years, to create an ordinance. Until your county creates an ordinance, you cannot use this law.

Despite the 30 meal per day and 60 meal per week limits, the health department has the ability to reduce these limits, based on your home’s production capacity.

You cannot use your home kitchen for both a cottage food operation and a microenterprise home kitchen operation.

Business What do you need to do to sell food from home?

Permit

Each county’s health department will have its own permit and process, but at a minimum, you should have to provide this information:

  • All types of food products you will be handling
  • The procedures and methods you will use during food preparation
  • The procedures and methods you will use for cleaning and/or disposing of equipment
  • How you will maintain safe food temperatures during pickup and delivery
  • The days and times that you will be operating your business

The cost of a permit will vary by county. A county may require an annual renewal for permits. A county may only designate one department to collect fees and process an application.

The permit should be displayed while your business is in operation.

Home Kitchen Inspection

Before you are offered your permit, your home will be inspected by a health department official to determine if your home meets the requirements for this law.

Unlike other food facilities, you will not have routine inspections. You should not have more than one inspection per year, unless there is a food safety issue.

Food Safety Certification Examination

As the owner of the business, you must take a food safety certification exam.

Food Handler Card

Any non-owner who is involved in the business (your employee, household member, or family member) must take a food safety training course, such as Learn2Serve’s Food Handler Training Course, which costs $7 (for most counties) and can be taken online in a couple of hours.

Zoning Requirements

A city or county may not restrict your business for zoning reasons. Often zoning is managed through the county’s planning division. However, you can be restricted if you place any signage on your property advertising your business, and/or you make too much noise and neighbors complain.

Workplace Are there any home kitchen requirements?

Food facilities typically need to use commercial kitchens, which have dozens of requirements, many of which are impractical for home kitchens. This law exempts you from many of the standards for commercial kitchens, but it does specify some rules in lieu of the exemptions (the full list is in section 114367.1(b) of the bill):

  • Your sinks must have hot and cold water
  • If you display food that is uncovered or unprotected, it cannot be sold or served to guests
  • Your food preparation area must be well-lit while you are preparing food
  • Linens used for your business must be laundered separately from your personal laundry
  • Clothing and other personal items not typically found in the kitchen should be placed away from your kitchen
  • Gases, odors, steam, heat, grease, vapors, and smoke must be able to escape from your kitchen
  • Your kitchen and bathroom’s floors, walls, and ceilings must be smooth and easily cleanable

In addition to the exemptions, some requirements are not exempt:

  • You must post handwashing signs at the sinks in your kitchen and bathroom
  • You must have a meat thermometer and a refrigerator thermometer

You can make your food in an open-air barbecue or outdoor wood-burning oven.

You need to have your permit on display while your business is in operation.

Resources Where can you find more information about this law?

Law Dates
January 2019
AB 626

This law was started by a group that had a very specific purpose, for a specific type of food producer, for a specific section of the state. In the middle of 2016, chefs on Josephine, formerly a popular web app for home cooks in Berkeley, were shutdown by health officials. The creators of Josephine tried to adapt by creating the C.O.O.K. Alliance and initiating this bill in early 2017, in hopes that the new legislation would allow their platform to legally exist. When the bill got delayed for a year, Josephine ran out of funds and closed in early 2018. But only six months later, the bill did pass, and unsurprisingly, it is most suited for a company exactly like Josephine. As this law began to see more adoption during the COVID-19 pandemic, many tech marketplace platforms cropped up to try to capitalize on this growing micro-restaurant movement.

In 2021, Utah became the second state to create a MEHKO law.

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Comments

    Even if you happened to live in Riverside County (or a county that allows this law), that probably wouldn’t be a great solution to the royal icing problem. You can’t operate both types of businesses at once, so if you used this law, then you would face these new problems: 1) You could only sell at home and online, via pickup and delivery. No more farmers market or event sales. 2) You would need to create your products on the same day as pickup/delivery. No more making cakes/cookies a day or more in advance of fulfillment. Wedding cakes, which can take multiple days to create, would probably not be feasible. On the plus side, your baked goods would be very fresh!

This is a step in the right direction for CA food policy. It promises to bring the power back to the people to determine how our communities can feed themselves. This Northern California based organization Foodnome is working to spread the word on AB 626 and what it means for passionate food entrepreneurs. https://www.foodnome.com/ab-626/

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