California Homemade Food Act Signed Into Law!

Soon to be legal to sell.

A bit late to report this, but AB 1616, the California Homemade Food Act was signed into law by Governor Brown last week. The bill will allow Californians to produce “non-hazardous foods,” such as such as jams, jellies, bread and honey, in a home kitchen and sell them.

The bill takes effect in January. There is still, however, a lot of work to be done to figure out exactly how local health departments will implement the bill. Many municipalities are short of money, so fees for home kitchen inspections will be an issue. There will be a need to balance costs to county health departments while at the same time not making fees so prohibitively high that home based entrepreneurs will be unable to afford them. Home based businesses, in my opinion, have a great deal of potential to provide employment in what seems to be a recession with no end in sight.

Built into the language of the bill is the requirement that homemade food proprietors take a food safety course that will, most likely, be offered online.

The biggest lesson in this bill for me is how one person can really make a difference. My friend, Mark Stambler, who co-founded the Los Angeles Bread Bakers (LABB) with Teresa Sitz and me, is the main reason this bill got going. Stambler got in trouble for selling his home baked (and excellent) bread at two local markets. Instead of giving up, he got on the phone, enlisting the aid of the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) and our local state Assemblyman, Mike Gatto, Mark organized an (illegal!) bake sale with the LABB which raised several thousand dollars to help support the efforts of SELC.

Facebook, this election year, seems especially clogged with all the latest national political outrages (and my Facebook friends are all over the political spectrum so I hear plenty from all sides). Most of these issues are virtually impossible for an individual to influence. The California Homemade Food Act demonstrates that thinking locally and picking a fight that can be won, can really make a difference.

Correction: the first version of this post had a picture of canned citrus with the caption “soon to be legal to sell.” It seems that whole canned fruit is not on this approved list for this bill. I”m looking into this issue, as canned citrus is considered by the USDA to be a non-hazardous food.

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19 Comments

  1. Very surprising that California would pass a law like this. Most of the laws out of California are ridiculous. It’s a great step forward, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the fees and course don’t make it cost prohibitive for a homesteader to actually follow the law and still sell their wares.

  2. This is a great idea. I hope the fees and all work out so that people can make and eat such good, small-scale food. I always like to hear the origins of such great ideas. To think one person started the ball rolling. Its rather inspiring, I think.

  3. I hate to be a downer here, but if the bill is contingent on state approved training (for a fee no doubt) and people are subject to have their home kitchens inspected if they choose to do this, it’s insanity. I’m not shocked California is doing this. The pervasive trend there is that anything can and should be lawful as long as there are people in government appointed to regulate the hell out of it for money.

    Are people really so terrified of home made foods that they only feel safe allowing themselves access to them with the proper government oversights?

    The conspiracy theorist in me sees this a law-fodder. A way to get new test cases through the court system to see how much crap people will really take. When a small church gets fined for it’s pot-luck dinners for not ensuring each contributor has met the lawful standards of inspection (or paid their dues), who will the people side with? When it’s a slow news day for the local 6 O’clock “investigative news team” and they start fanning the flames under a prominent school administrator for the legal failings of the cheerleader’s bake sale, what will happen? Armed law enforcement officials preforming raids on unlawful little league lemonade stands… Ok, that’s going a bit far, I embellishing to make my point. That last scenario is as insane to you or I, as it would have been to tell my grandmother 50 years ago that to sell her extra cans of apple sauce or strawberry jelly in the front yard would make her subject to inspections of her own kitchen. That was a line no one dreamed of crossing. If someone had told her “M’am, you are not properly trained in the production or lawful distribution of strawberry preserves, we’re here to inspect your kitchen”, they would have been escorted off of the property with a shot gun and a scornful look that made the gun seem less intimidating than the old woman carrying it. The home was sacrosanct. A bill such as this is an insult.

    I haven’t read the bill, let’s assume there are exemptions for some these obvious examples. Even then, if a person runs a profitable home business, they are already obligated to have a business license, pass inspections, and pay their taxes. What does this bill actually accomplish?

    They’ve been pissing on you so long, when one of them throws you an umbrella, you thank them. I just don’t get it. If there is any evidence that home made foods are unsafe, and the public decides it needs protection from that, make it illegal. If the people however don’t view them selves a victims-to-be in every situation and think they can handle buying and eating a loaf of bread without dying a horrible death, legalize it (or better yet, don’t make it illegal in the first place).

    On a bit of a tangent, I wonder how many coroners have cited “sever under-regulation of domestic policy” as the cause of death? They way politicians act, that number’s gotta be F***’n huge.

    I’m not condemning the bill. I’m condemning a society that thinks it needs such a bill for civilization to continue.

    • Stephen, though I’m not planning to sell anything myself I am curios what part of the law you are referring to. These mandarin slices were prepared using a tested (by an extension service) recipe.

    • If you read the law. Dried Mandarin slices are allowed. Mandarin orange jelly or jam is allowed. Using these oranges in a baked pie or pastry is allowed. But home canned whole fruits and vegetables are not on the approved list. No pickled foods either. All of the allowed foods, are either dried, baked in an oven,(bread or pies) or cooked on stove (jams,jelly and fruit butter,candy and popcorn).

    • Thanks Stephen. I’ll look into this. Sliced citrus, in my opinion, should be on the non-hazardous list. There may be some leeway when negotiating with the health department and I’ll ask about this issue.

  4. Looking over the Cottage food laws in the states that have them. Minnesota allows home canned fruit and vegetable if they have a ph of 4.5 or lower. Kentucky under its micro-processor law for farmers, allows some canning but you must grow, harvest, and process all of ingredients yourself. Most states just ban the sale of home canned items. Oranges have a ph between 3.00 and 4.35, so you might be able to get them on the non-hazardous list.

    • Thanks again Stephen. I’ve emailed Mark Stambler, to suggest we advocate for canned citrus to be added to the non-hazardous list. Canned citrus recipes were part of my Master Food Preserver training–and, therefore, carefully tested and USDA approved for water bath canning.

  5. I am curious about the inclusion of honey on the list.My bees produce honey in their hive not in my kitchen.And I can already sell honey at my california certified farmers market.so this item has me confused.

  6. I am an avid homebrewer and have been actively looking into starting a nanobrewery. I can easily meet all the state and federal licensing regulations for the production and sale of beer. It was local zoning in my city that was the set back. I wonder if production of beer would be covered by this great new law? Technically speaking beer is “non-hazardous”…no pathogens can live in beer due to a low ph and the presense of alcohol.

    • Beer is non-hazardous but definitely not covered by this bill. As soon as alcohol enters the picture you are looking a a mountain of government paperwork, permits and very strict inspections. It’s not easy, sadly, to get a brewery started.

    • Trust me I have studied laws governing brewing at both the federal and state level for a few years now. The state and federal laws are actually pretty manageable, albeit extensive. They just want the excise taxes paid and the proper paperwork to be filed is the bottom line. In my case the hold up was that my local city would not sign off on the zoning waiver. AB 1616 MIGHT give me a little more ammo in this fight. The funny/sad part in all this is that the city is concerned about the use of the residence as a small brewery. Well guess what? It already is!! The only difference is that I can’t take some kegs down to a local restaurant and sell them. So my city is losing out on money from taxes, permits, and
      fees but the “prohibited” use continues.

    • Local zoning laws make absolutely no sense. Some friend of mine were thinking about opening a brewery bud decided it would be easier to open a brew pub. Still, opening a restaurant here in LA can take 2 years before the doors open.

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