Exactly like homemade
New law allows certain cottage-food operations to make their products in a home kitchen
The way Brad Banner, environmental-health director for the Butte County Public Health Department, tells it, it is thanks to “a popular guy in L.A. who made gourmet bread in his home” for sale at a farmers’ market being “shut down by the health department” that Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) was spurred into writing Assembly Bill 1616. Banner, for his part, helped with the passage of AB 1616, also known as the California Homemade Food Act, which took effect on Jan. 1.
“I worked for it,” said Banner. “I’m excited because it’s part of the local food movement and I think that’s a really good thing.”
In a nutshell, the California Homemade Food Act allows “an enterprise at a private home”—termed a cottage-food operation, or CFO—to prepare for packaged sale to consumers “specific low-risk food products that do not require refrigeration,” as the Environmental Health Division of the Butte County Public Health Department puts it in the Frequently Asked Questions section of its website (see column note for Web address). Thirty-two other states in the United States, including Oregon, Washington and Colorado, have passed similar laws allowing home-kitchen-based businesses to produce goods for sale to the public.
Included on California’s list of approved CFO products are baked goods without cream, custard or meat fillings, like bread, biscuits, churros, cookies and tortillas; chocolate-covered nonperishable foods such as nuts and dried fruits; dried pasta; fruit pies, empanadas and tamales; granola and trail mix; honey; nut butters; popcorn; mustard; and roasted coffee and dried tea.
CFOs are divided into two categories according to the Homemade Food Act—Class A CFOs may engage only in “direct sale” (such as at farmers’ markets and community events, or via mobile units) of cottage foods, while Class B CFOs are allowed to engage in both direct and indirect sale (such as through a retailer).
Class A CFOs require no initial inspection; rather, they are required to “simply register with the health department and sign a self-certification document that they’ll follow the rules,” Banner said. A couple of those rules, according to the statutory requirements for cottage-food operations as laid out in the California Health and Safety Code, are: “No cottage food preparation, packaging or handling may occur in the home kitchen concurrent with any other domestic activities, such as family meal preparation, dishwashing, clothes washing or ironing, kitchen cleaning, or guest entertainment,” and “All food preparation and food and equipment storage areas shall be maintained free of rodents and insects.”
A Class A CFO may, however, be inspected if “on the basis of a consumer complaint, [there is] reason to suspect that adulterated or otherwise unsafe food has been produced” by the CFO, according to the text of AB 1616.
Class B CFOs, on the other hand, require “an initial inspection … and no more than one inspection per year,” Banner said. “This is new to our department—we’ve never gone into people’s homes to inspect their kitchen. It’s a whole new thing for staff.”
So far, said Banner, four people in Butte County have taken advantage of AB 1616—three CFOs have registered as Class A and one was permitted as Class B.
“The primary thing that AB 1616 offers us is … being able to do things with dried fruit, you know, like chocolate-dipped, for gift packs and things of that nature,” said Chris Kerston, managing partner at Oroville’s Chaffin Family Orchards (go to www.chaffinfamilyorchards.com to learn more), in a recent telephone interview.
Chicoans are familiar with Chaffin Family Orchards’ permaculture-raised fresh fruits and vegetables (and, of course, its dried fruit), grass-fed meats and award-winning olive oils, often via its booth at the Saturday farmers’ market in downtown Chico. “Until AB 1616, we were allowed to sun-dry the fruit, but you weren’t allowed to ‘value-add’ it in any way,” said Kerston. “We would have had to rent a commercial kitchen,” which can be pricey, he noted.
Ditto for making jam, which Chaffin Family Orchards produced before the passage of the California Homemade Food Act. “We’ve always had to rent a commercial kitchen for jam,” Kerston said. “If you go to a commercial kitchen, you’re renting for a particular date, once a month. You can’t save the culled fruit [for this purpose]—you have to take first-run fruit. If you’re making small batches of jam in a [home] kitchen, you can use culled fruit as the ‘waste’ fruit presents itself.”
Kerston brought up the example of peaches: “Say you have a peach that is 90 percent good, or has a bug bite, or a bird strike. You can’t sell that at the farmers’ market as whole fruit as customers are generally turned off. Now, we have a ‘home’ for our ‘seconds,’” which before AB 1616 “often would end up as livestock feed” simply because of the appearance.
“Now, we can do a small batch of jam every weekend after the farmers’ market, rather than a once-a-month date,” Kerston said. “We’re looking forward to taking advantage of this in summer.”
But even more important than the fact that the California Homemade Food Act allows small businesses to use home kitchens for food preparation, notes Kerston, is the fact that the new law increases access to healthful food.
As Kerston explained it, “The [food] movement right now is trying to go back to this old-fashioned, heirloom way of life, but the reality is, in our modern society, everyone’s really busy. Sixty years ago, every home had one person in the household whose sole job was to feed and clothe the family—and we don’t have that anymore. And that’s OK.
“But for this food movement to grow, and for people to have access to fresh, healthy food, we have to be able to offer them ready-to-eat foods. The more we can remove the barriers [to accessing fresh, healthful, ready-to-eat foods], the more people will have access to healthy foods.
“This is designed to be an incubator program,” Kerston added, of AB 1616. “It allows small businesses to see what works before renting a full-blown commercial kitchen and getting a staff and all those next steps of growth. It provides an opportunity to get some experience, some customer feedback before taking those next steps on growing your business.”