Los Angeles-area assemblyman Mike Gatto has introduced a bill aimed at allowing so-called “cottage food operations” to thrive throughout California without being subject to the extensive (and costly) red tape imposed on commercial food facilities. If enacted, Assembly Bill 1616 would create a legislative carve-out for cottage food operations, which would be limited to selling “non-potentially hazardous foods” unlikely to grow harmful bacteria at room temperature. (Think baked goods, granolas, nuts, and so forth.) From a practical standpoint, according to Assemblyman Gatto, the bill — dubbed the California Homemade Food Act — would keep startup costs low for these types of small businesses by allowing them to operate from home kitchens.
The requirements? Cottage food producers would need to register with their local county health department (but would not be subject to the same stringent food inspections required of commercial kitchens). The producers would also be required to adhere to the California Health & Safety Code’s sanitary processes, and all food products would be required to bear labels listing the name of the product, ingredients, a list of allergens, the product’s net weight, and the location of production. Producers could sell their wares directly to consumers, by mail, or online.
According to the Sustainable Economies Law Center in Oakland, Calif., susn
Cottage Food Laws, sometimes referred to as Baker’s Bills, are laws that allow people to make certain foods in their own home kitchen and then sell them on a small scale, typically directly to consumers and at farmer’s markets. Cottage Food Laws allow individuals who are interested in starting their own food business get started developing a customer base and raising some of the money required to further develop their business. Removing the significant financial and logistical barrier of having a commercial kitchen makes starting one’s own food business more accessible and more feasible for a greater number of people. It also gives consumers more access to a greater variety of home-cooked, artisan and other unique foods at their farmers’ market or right in their neighborhood.
(via Sustainable Economies Law Center).
And as the text of the bill itself allows, “[S]mall businesses have played an important role in helping slow economies recover and prosper as an engine of job creation. During the 1990s, small businesses created the majority of new jobs and now account for 65 percent of United States employment.” The bill goes on to note that California’s growing obesity rate parallels that of the United States as a whole; indeed, two-thirds of American adults and one-third of children and teenagers are either overweight or obese. (According to Assemblyman Gatto, one in nine California children and one in three teens are already overweight.) The remedy, according to the good assemblyman? Consumption of “healthy, fresh foods.”
Unfortunately, the obesity epidemic is particularly rampant in low-income and/or rural communities throughout the Golden State, which face a very real shortage of healthy, locally grown products. Enter the cottage food industry (also sometimes referred to as artisanal or slow food), which seeks to connect these underserved populations with local, sustainable small businesses. (I think Assemblyman Gatto needs to have an old-fashioned heart-to-heart with Assemblyman Monning about his ill-advised food truck legislation.) In other words, legislation like this ultimately stimulates small-scale production of locally-produced foods, resulting in a smaller carbon footprint (and that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when, you know, you look into the eyes of the person who made your honey or jam and thank them for putting so much TLC into what you’re about to consume).
I’m going to read through the entire text of the bill tonight — yes, all nineteen pages of it — but I’d welcome any thoughts or input you might have, dear reader. And do you know of a cottage food producer who has an opinion on this subject? By all means, send them my way.