September 20th, 2018

Home cooks selling food in their neighborhoods in California have a reason to celebrate this week: soon, they’ll no longer be criminals. The signing of the Homemade Food Operations Act on Tuesday opens new avenues for home cooks, who can now make a (modest) living legally selling their food.

The law, which goes into affect January 1, creates a category of businesses titled “Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations,” consisting of small businesses making $50,000 or less per year (and no more than 60 meals/week) in their homes. These meals must be direct sales, in which the product is delivered to, or picked up by, the customer. No wholesaling is allowed under the law.

Previously, California home cooks attempting to sell homemade food to their friends and neighbors were doing so illegally. Like most states, California only allows the sale of food through commercial channels (a restaurant or food truck, etc) or through Cottage Food Laws. Anyone operating outside of those channels was subject to shutdown by local regulatory agencies.

The implementation of this law is a win for the underground food maker community. This demographic is primarily made up of women, lower-income individuals, and members of the immigrant community. However, the local Health Department opposed the bill, citing food safety concerns. In order to address this, the law contains requirements for permits and health inspections, though not as strict as those for commercial operations.

Going forward, stakeholder groups (food delivery apps, food safety organizations, and the maker community) will be watching closely to see how the DoH addresses these new regulations (and the influx of inspections that will be needed to license them). If successful, there could be an enormous impact on the home food market in California – and eventually beyond.