Gov. Brown signs law allowing home cooks to sell their food

Thursday, September 20, 2018

As excerpted from The San Francisco Chronicle: 

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law AB626, a groundbreaking new law that allows people to sell directly to the public food they have cooked in their home kitchens.

California Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella (Riverside County), introduced the bill in 2017. It was held in Assembly appropriations until 2018, when it moved forward again with state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, as co-author. Both the state Assembly and Senate voted unanimously in favor of the bill before it moved to the governor’s desk. Brown signed it on Tuesday, Sept. 18.

AB626 is part of a nationwide effort to pass “cottage food” laws permitting small-scale home-based food enterprises. The California Homemade Food Act, signed into law in 2012, allows home cooks to sell jams, pickles and other foods with low risk of foodborne illness.

The new law is much broader, encompassing all sorts of perishable foods, yet it also includes safety precautions for the public. To obtain a permit to sell food prepared at home, cooks must obtain the same food managers’ certification as restaurant professional do and agree to an inspection of their kitchen. They must also agree to unscheduled, drop-in inspections during their posted business hours.

Furthermore, cooks are only allowed to sell food directly to consumers — they are not allowed to use delivery services or send their food through the mail. “That ensures a high degree of traditional accountability,” said Matt Jorgensen, whose nonprofit coalition, the COOK Alliance, sponsored the bill and organized petitions and rallies in support.

Once it goes into effect Jan. 1, 2019, AB626 will legalize many types of informal businesses that currently operate under the radar: Cooks who make dumplings and advertise them through WeChat, the Chinese-language messaging service. Cooks who make sheet-pans of tamales to sell to their church congregation. Cooks who quit the restaurant industry to prepare dinners in their home for paying guests. If they gross more than $50,000 a year, they will have to move to a commercial kitchen.

“It decriminalizes a practice that has been going on for a long time and creates an economic empowerment opportunity for people who want to make a living from something they already do at home and enjoy doing,” said Assemblyman Garcia.

Garcia argued that the law will make consumers safer, rather than putting them at increased risk. “Right now we’re turning the other way to something that’s happening, so there’s no accountability,” he said.