I just received an email from the Local Food Coalition listserve about AB 1616, which is a California state bill that would ease restrictions on the sales of foods prepared in home kitchens. The bill has been passed by the CA Assembly and has not been voted on in the Senate. The following is taken from the fact sheet:

The California Homemade Food Act amends sections of the Health and Safety Code to create a legal structure for the safe home production, and sale or trade, of homemade foods under the classification of a “Cottage Food Operation.” Additionally, this bill would allow local governments to choose between various types of regulatory schemes to allow for legally operating “Cottage Food Operations”.

BACKGROUND

31 states have laws that permit the in-home production and distribution of homemade foods (for example, breads, tortillas, dry roasted nuts and legumes, empanadas, granola, churros, jams, jellies and other products). Under current California law, a person may not use the kitchen in a private residence to produce any foods to be sold or traded for public consumption.

The national movement to “homemade” foods and products – also known as “cottage foods”, “artisanal foods”, “slow foods” and products of “urban agriculture” – reflects a wish to increase the availability of healthier and locally processed foods for our communities. Such products typically include organic and natural ingredients that are less artificially refined or processed.

During these difficult economic times, our State should do everything possible to allow individuals to provide for their families and assist with our economic recovery. Home-based food production can allow micro-entrepreneurs to prosper during times of otherwise limited economic opportunity by meeting the desires of local consumers. Under current California law, they cannot do so.

WHAT THE BILL DOES?

AB 1616 would define “Cottage Food Operation” as a private home where non-potentially hazardous products are prepared and packaged to be sold to or traded with consumers. It would require local governments to classify such operations as an allowable use of residential property. It would provide for the establishment of State regulations and permit local governments to establish more detailed regulations for such small-scale operations, including but not limited to a registration process, and food preparation and handling best practices and procedures.

I read the bill analysis, which can be found here. While I am excited to see the California Legislature addressing this issue, I am a concerned about this “non-potentially hazardous” language. The bill analysis says that “potentially hazardous food is “any food capable of supporting growth of infectious or toxigenic micro-organisms when held at temperatures above 45 degrees Fahrenheit.”  I’m no food-scientist, but this seems like it could include a lot of different foods.  I mean, wouldn’t most foods spoil if held for a long period of time at 46 degrees or higher?  “Toxigenic” is not defined in the bill, but in medical terms it means poisonous, toxic, or producing a toxin. “Infectious” seems like an odd word to describe food, but if they mean food that can grow harmful bacteria, well, again, can’t most foods, if stored in the right (or I guess wrong) conditions?

As someone embarking on a dairy operation, for example, I’m not sure that this bill is going to help me if I want to sell fresh goat’s milk cheeses at the farmers’ market. Dairy products are conspicuously missing from the list of cottage foods the bill suggests it would permit, i.e. the breads, nuts, churros (random!), jams and jellies list mentioned in the fact sheet.

Any thoughts on this, readers? Do you live in one of the 31 states that allow cottage food businesses? How is that working out for you? What kind of changes would you like to see in your laws?

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