Last year, Mark Stambler, co-founder of the Los Angeles Bread Bakers (LABB) and an avid artisanal baker, ran into some trouble with the Los Angeles Department of Environmental Health for selling his homemade bread at local shops.


After that experience, Stambler reports he “made a commitment to work with the department to see if there was a legitimate way for a small-scale bread baker such as [himself] to start a micro-enterprise without going deeply into debt.”

Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) read about Stambler’s struggles in a newspaper and called Stambler to offer to help.  Gatto teamed up with LABB, the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC), and Proyecto Jardin to draft legislation to address the obstacles small food producers face.

The California Homemade Food Act

On Feb. 8, 2012, Assemblyman Gatto introduced a cottage food bill in the California State Assembly, bringing California one step closer to joining a growing number of other states with similar laws.

The California Homemade Food Act, AB 1616, would allow small food businesses operating out of a private home that produce “nonpotentially hazardous goods” (so called “cottage food operations”) to comply with fewer regulations.

Cottage foods are those foods considered to be not potentially hazardous.  The bill’s definition of cottage food includes things like “baked goods, jams, jellies, fruit butters, preserves, pickles with a pH level of 4.6 or below when measured at 75 degrees Fahrenheit, candy, granola, dry cereals, popcorns, nut mixes, dried fruit, chocolate covered nonperishable nuts and dried fruit, dry baking mixes, roasted coffees, dry teas, [and] honey.”

A cottage food operation, defined as “a private home where cottage food products are prepared or packaged to be sold directly to consumers, including through the internet and mail order, and to in-state retail and food facilities pursuant to this article,” is subject to inspection only if there is reason to suspect, based on a consumer complaint, that adulterated or otherwise unsafe food has been produced in the private home kitchen.  The bill expressly states that there shall be no routine inspections of cottage food operations.

While cottage food operations are removed from some of the state laws and regulations, these operations must comply with other specific rules and regulations.  The bill sets forth requirements for sanitation (i.e., keeping surfaces and utensils sanitized; washing hands; not working in the home kitchen when sick with a contagious illness; keeping children and pets out of the home kitchen when making the cottage food) and labeling (compliance with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act).

The bill also authorizes the director of the State Public Health Department to adopt regulations that are reasonably necessary to implement the proposed law covering sanitation procedures, labeling requirements, and registration (potentially including “reasonable fees”).  The director is prohibited from requiring an inspection of the operation as a prerequisite to register.  Further, the director is prohibited from setting a maximum annual gross sales amount for a cottage food operation (some states have a limit).

Lastly, the bill addresses the potential zoning violations that are common in allowing a commercial activity in a residential zone.  Because local governments (city and county) most often retain authority over zoning, the bill expressly states that “a city, county, or city and county shall not prohibit cottage food operations in any residential dwelling.”  Instead, the municipality can: (1) classify cottage food operations as a permitted use in a residential zone; (2) grant a nondiscretionary permit to the operation that requires compliance with local ordinances concerning spacing and concentration, traffic control, parking, and noise control; or, (3) require the cottage food operation to apply for a permit, which shall be granted if the operation complies with the local ordinances of the kind mentioned above.

The latest bill action noted on the California legislative information website shows AB 1616 may be heard in committee March 10.

  • Good to see progress on ‘cottage food’ law in California. As a UK resident with more than a passing interest I have been following the development of these laws in the US this past year. I have never really understood what the problem was with selling, for example, home-baked bread at the local market. There is no such prohibition in the UK, but the drawback is the same rules apply whether you are a 50 loaves a week homebaker or an industrial food processor.
    Thankfully it works, as evidenced by the many, possibly 100s, of home bakers at work. In fact the home food producer can make and sell anything, but is subject to registration, regulatory compliance and inspection like everyone else.

  • “Pickles with a pH less than 4.6” Really? Like these people are going to know what that means or have a pH meter among their kitchen items. Someone will get sick or die as a result of this because at some point a person producing one of these not “potentially hazardous” products will do something-in the absence of regulation and education- to make them hazardous.

  • Awesome! California has need a ‘cottage food’ law.

  • Art Villanueva

    Great news! I would much rather buy bread from a home baker then a big food company. Usually the ingredients are better. I would also love to start selling perserves at my local farmers market and this will totally allow me to do so. All I need to do is learn a little more about food’s acidity. This is indeed great news!
    PS. Who are “these people” Peter Cocotas is referring too? I think his post is insulting. Most people canning their own food know about PH. It’s not rocket science Pete.

  • Julie Marcotte

    I think this is great news. I have to rent a kitchen, and it can be pricey. I am hoping we will adopt the same type food bill. I hope it passes. More and more states are joining in and it is helping many folks have opportunity to work and bring income back into their lives. I don’t know why this Peter Cocotas has a problem. There’s always an ignorant idiot in every crowd. These are non harardous foods. Nobody is going to mess up anything. It’s not the home baker you have to worry about. It’s the jerk that adds all the crap to your food to preserve it and leave it on the shelves for months on end….. The chance that these home based products get recalled are slim and none. I would much rather have something home baked, then buy processed anything.
    Brains are not your strong suit, are they ? What a shame.

  • We’re very excited the baking barriers are being broken down!
    We recently launched our website in hopes of helping cooks and bakers across the nation find customers and likewise, customers find cooks and bakers. We’re also hoping centralizing all cooks/bakers in our website can empower the people when it comes to legislation of this type.

  • Canningqueen

    This law is to be signed in September by the governor of CA. There is no opposition while pushing the bill through. I can’t wait, but what I am hearing from folks in other states that the kitchen inspection can be brutal. The cost of the license is supposed to be reasonable, too.
    Peter is a moron and has probably never baked, made jams or jellies or pickles. Food grade Ph testers can be purchased from any good kitchen supply place. I have been canning for years including pressure canning. A method not approved under this bill.