California Homemade Food Act by Assemblyman Mike Gatto Sent to Governor

Assemblyman Mike Gatto

After quick passage by both houses of the Legislature yesterday, Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s (D-Los Angeles) Assembly Bill (AB) 1616, the California Homemade Food Act, was sent to the Governor. If signed into law, the California Homemade Food Act would legalize the sale of homemade, “non-potentially hazardous” foods by creating a two-tier system of “cottage food operations” based upon the point of sale.

The Assemblyman made a commitment to helping aspiring micro-entrepreneurs start their businesses by improving access to locally produced, artisan foods after his constituent, Mark Stambler, was shut down by the Los Angeles Department of Environmental Health for selling his homemade, brick-oven breads to a neighborhood cheese shop. “This final step is substantial for food makers like Mark, stay-at-home parents, culinary enthusiasts, job seekers and all those who want to know where their foods come,” commented Gatto. “I hope that the Governor will join me and the thousands of people statewide that are looking to develop their businesses and purchase healthier, more locally produced foods for their families.”

Outdated statutes and local ordinances strictly prohibit everyone from home-based, artisanal bread bakers to small-scale, dried-fruit vendors from selling their products to their communities. AB 1616 will lift that ban, permitting every-day foods such as breads, tortillas, dry roasted nuts and legumes, cookies, granola, churros, jams, jellies and other fruit preserves, to be produced in the home and sold to the public. Producers choosing to sell directly to consumers will register with the local health department, and those choosing to sell to local retail shops, such as the neighborhood coffee shop or corner store, will be subject to initial inspection and permitting by the local health department. All producers will also be required to complete a food processor course, verify that the home kitchen meets specific standards, and disclose on the product label that the product was made in a home kitchen.

Gatto argues that providing producers the opportunity to sell directly to their neighbors at the local farmer’s market or through the specialty shop up the street is a matter of access to opportunity for those struggling to provide for themselves and their families in a state with a 12% unemployment rate. Prior to Stambler’s incident in Los Angeles, Shasta County made national headlines when, in 2008, it stopped 86-year-old disabled World War II veteran Jack Melton from selling the fruitcakes he had been making in his home kitchen for more than ten years. “The disabled veteran fruit cake-maker, the single mom selling churros, and the bread-baker with a less-than-normal regular work schedule are constrained in their ability to transport their products to local farmers markets. The state should not prohibit them from taking advantage of an opportunity to make ends meet when, year after year, it has been forced to drastically cut social services.”

The California Homemade Food Act is consistent with similar laws of at least 33 other states, none of which have reported a food-borne illness from non-potentially hazardous foods. The legislation contains numerous provisions that will ensure cottage food operations remain small-scale, neighborhood-based activities that respect the importance of public health. Amendments reflect conversations with state and local health officials, retail interests, food producers and ethnic groups. The bill has thus far received support from various organizations statewide, including the Los Angeles Bread Bakers, the Sustainable Economies Law Center, Proyecto Jardin, Whole Foods Market Northern California, the California State Grange, and the City of Los Angeles. An online petition gathered signatures from more than 6,000 people state-wide.

“I encourage Governor Brown to help me remove the red tape that confines our local governments and to assist micro-entrepreneurs who want to enter the food production business but do not have the time or money to spend on a long, drawn out permitting process,” said Gatto. “Creating a legal structure for the safe, in-home production of certain foods that respects the importance of public health is a sensible approach that will spark more economic activity in our local economies and in California.”

The bill received a unanimous, bipartisan 37-0 vote in the Senate, and a bipartisan 60-16 concurrence vote in the Assembly. The Governor must sign the bill before September 30th to legalize homemade foods sales in California.

Get “Behind the Bill” and hear the story of the California Homemade Food Act in this Assembly Access Video:

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