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Bill to Legalize Sales of Homemade Food Clears Legislative Hurdle; State Senate Vote to Come

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Artisanal Organic Jams at Artisanal LA
Artisanal Organic Jams at Artisanal LA
Photo: Ricardo Diaz

On Wednesday, the State Senate Health Committee unanimously voted 8-0 to approve a bill proposed by local State Assemblyman Mike Gatto (Districts: Burbank, Glendale, Parts of Los Angeles i.e. Los Feliz, North Hollywood, Silver Lake) that would lift the ban on sales of homemade foods categorized as "non-potentially hazardous." It seems that no one has ever died from a piece of stale bread (and especially not one that was freshly baked). So far 32 states that have similar laws have reported no food-borne illnesses from "non-potentially hazardous foods."

The California Homemade Food Act (AB 1616) would allow micro-entrepreneurs and artisan food makers to create what's commonly known as a cottage food operation and thereby legally produce and sell "healthy, homemade" foods such as breads, tortillas, dry roasted nuts and legumes, granola, churros, jams, jellies and other fruit preserves, rice cakes and cookies. Maybe next time you step into a local cafe you'll be munching on fresh homemade cookies made by someone's grandmother.

The "red tape" involved with becoming a producer isn't very difficult. If the producer chooses to sell directly to the consumer, he or she would have to register with the local health department and complete a food handler’s course. If a producer chooses to sell to a local store or grocer, such as the neighborhood coffee shop, he or she would have inspections and a permit from the local health department. Compare this to renting a commercial kitchen or setting up an entire retail or wholesale operation at a brick and mortar space. With health inspectors already overworked and thinly spread out, one wonders how the local health departments would handle this additional load of inspections.

With California's unemployment currently at around 12%, this proposed legislation could provide additional income outlets for the unemployed and underemployed, as well as boosting local community activity. The bill recently has been amended to include a series of specific restrictions on retail sales to make sure this remains a small-scale, community activity.

Most of the opposition to the legislation seems to be stemming from large corporations who see this as increased competition. No surprise there. The bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee before going to the Senate Floor for a full vote of the chamber. Governor Jerry Brown must sign the bill before September 30th to lift the ban on homemade foods sales in California. Here's to hoping for a slew of new, artisanal products available at our local outlets and stores.

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