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.