Homemade Food Act Passes, but Small Producers Aren’t Celebrating

Emmy Moore making pickles for Emmy's Pickles and Jams

Emmy Moore making pickles for Emmy's Pickles and Jams

En Español.

A bill that allows small food producers to sell products they make in their home kitchens is getting a tepid response from those most likely to benefit from it.

The much-anticipated bill, AB 1616, was signed into law on Sept. 21 by Gov. Jerry Brown. It signals a major shift in the laws regulating so-called “cottage” food industries in the state. The bill will allow artisan food producers to sell products that they make at home, rather than forcing them to rent a commercial kitchen.

But some small producers in the Mission District are not enthusiastic about the law.

“I don’t think it’s a sustainable practice to have a 
food business that you operate out of your home,” said Emmy 
Moore of Emmy’s Pickles and Jams.

On a sunny Thursday afternoon, Moore can be found in the Mission 
Community Market with a table full of brined vegetables and bright 
fruit preserves. She started her business two years ago, making her 
products at home and selling them at San Francisco’s Underground
 Market.

When the market was shut down by San Francisco’s Department of Public Health
 over potential food safety issues, Moore decided to go big. She 
started working at a commercial kitchen in the Mission and later moved 
to a larger space in Emeryville.

“In the long run, it was good to have a push to go pro. I
 don’t think I would have expanded as much. I was able to 
produce so much more and work alongside other businesses.”

In two years, Emmy’s Pickles and Jams went from retailing in 
six stores to 30, and she estimates her business is currently
 making around $45,000 annually. Moore says that overall she’s 
happy that the Homemade Food Act passed, but warns it could give 
producers who are just starting out “a false sense of
 ability.”

AB 1616 will allow Californians to sell
 “non-potentially hazardous goods” they produce at home. These include
 things like breads, jams and preserves, granola, nut mixes and coffees
 — foods that don’t contain meat or dairy, or 
could produce potentially hazardous bacteria like botulism. The law 
caps the revenue these businesses can earn at $35,000 this year. The cap will 
increase to $50,000 in 2015, significantly higher than in other 
states. Washington and Michigan’s cottage foods laws cap 
revenue at $15,000 annually, and Colorado limits sales to $10,000. Still, local producers agree that while AB 1616 is a good start, it is 
not means to an end.

“If they sign it, I’ll be very happy, but I don’t
 want people to think that’s it,” said Adriana Lahl 
before the bill was signed. “Eventually they’re going 
to have to rent a place.”

Lahl runs Sal de Vida Gourmet, a niche business specializing in salt, 
rice mixes and condiment spreads. Lahl started her business in 2010. 
Initially she cooked at home and sold her products at events 
at her daughters’ school. But she soon began working in the 
commercial kitchen of Mission District food incubator La Cocina.

“If you really want a business,” said Lahl, “you 
have to grow it.”

Now Sal de Vida products are sold at the Ferry Building Farmers 
Market, at street food festivals and occasionally at the Williams-
Sonoma Artisan’s Market. This year Lahl hopes to bring in over 
$12,000 from the business.

She encourages small producers to take advantage of the new bill, but
 also to look beyond it. “Don’t try to save pennies by
 staying in your home,” she says. “I encourage people to
 think bigger and don’t be afraid of investing. Don’t be
 afraid of going the next step.”

Overall, California’s Homemade Food Act is a victory for 
everyone sitting around the local-food table. If anything, it will 
give producers just starting out a way to sell their products 
legally. But in the Mission District, even the little guys are
 saying, “Go big, or go home.”

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8 Comments

  1. Peter

    The practice of preparing food for consumer consumption at home is troublesome. For all of the entrepreneurs that will maintain a clean environment and utilize proper sanitation, there will be those that do not. As a former health inspector, it took unannounced inspections at restaurants and markets to maintain compliance with food protection laws. Not a fan of this law.

  2. Haz Been

    In commercial kitchens you must have stainless steel surfaces, have posted guidelines about hygiene, do NOT allow pets, and many other safe-guards. This law is plain out a huge step backwards in food safety. Look, if you want to make stuff at home that’s fine, but you don’t get to claim to be a commercial business and do that. It’s just plain CRAZY! How about surgeries at living-room clinics? I guarantee you there will be lawsuits for days about food poisoning from unsafe handling.

    • Blurpy

      Don’t the home-based businesses still have to answer to health inspectors?

      • cbb

        No, they do not. They are outside the scope of any health inspector, do not need to comply with any food safety regulations, food handling requirements, or clean standards. Nor do these home producers need to carry insurance.

        • nikkygolightly

          False. Home producers absolutely do have to comply with health codes and have to take a class on safe practices. Check out information on the SELC website.

  3. Denys Alex

    I’m excited that the bill has passed. I’m a Le Cordon Bleu trained chef and our community knows how hard it is to get your foot in the door at any culinary establishment for employment/business. This bill open the door for many who just can’t afford a business loan right now. What people must realize is that food based businesses today and in the past were started “at home”! You may have had a vision and a dream to start a food business but never forget that the “recipes” we’re created and tested “at home”! The same food that was: taken to company parties, community bake sales, school events, church events, farmers markets, etc. etc. have all been made in “someone’s home” and no one ever thinks twice before they buy the food item and devour it! Ive met numerous chefs (some famous ones too) and guess what, their recipes “all started in the either their mother’s kitchen or their own”! So don’t knock the bill just because you don’t understand it.

  4. relaxdude

    It sounds like these small producers are just jelly at the fact that they had it so tough to achieve so much at home. But I do not believe they realize that not everyone wants to expand huge, and have a ginormous corporation. I just wanna make my unique foods and sell them to friends and neighbors without getting in trouble with the law. I just want to teach my daughter about our ethnic healthy foods, while maintaining a small reasonable income. Ill be more than happy if i ever come close to 20k a year. I understand your concern about health and people using this and not converting to a commercial kitchen, etc…but do not punish all these innocent people, on the belief that a few bad apples might ruin it for all. I also find it hilarious that Moore is commenting on this issue as a bad thing, when she herself SOLD FOOD UNDERGROUND UNREGULATED…talk about pot calling the kettle black

  5. Carolyn Carroll

    I stumbled across this article, and have experienced both sides of the issue. 25 yrs ago we bought 5 acres of fruit trees in So Cal, and became Certified Organic. During that time we raised our kids, selling at Farmers Market, entering our homemade jams and jellies in County Fairs, all of us winning so many awards I can’t even remember. We rented certified kitchens to make our jams & jellies, paid to be able to make our food in a ‘clean environment’ inspected by health inspectors. Unknowingly, it seemed to be from small Mom & Pop kitchens who, as a last resort, rented out their kitchens to ‘save’ their business, but would alas go out of business, and I was forced to go through all the hassle of finding another kitchen. Even though every single one of the restaurants had an A rating, you couldn’t believe the conditions I would find. Some were very clean, but the last one I used was disgusting! I had to clean before I could use it. I finally realized that they were using me to once a week clean their kitchen, and I was paying them! I couldn’t afford to open my own kitchen. I finally gave up in disgust, very disappointed. A local restaurant, with an immaculately clean kitchen, approached me to make my jam exclusively for them, which I did for 14 yrs. I have never lost my dream to be able to make food from my organic fruit and sell it from my farm. I know the difference between a clean and dirty kitchen! I cried when I realized my dream could actually come true. This bill was created without knowing our family, but we are who this bill was created for. My husband died in May of this year, and our family is faced with having to sell the land that he worked so hard to maintain. This bill has given me hope for the first time since May that we may actually be able to stay here and save our land. I will go through all the steps needed to maintain a clean healthy kitchen that is required by our local health department. I won’t have to, regardless if never needed, do some of the things that would have been required if I had built a certified kitchen on our property: lockers (for who?), a floor drain with a mop sink, and a handicapped bathroom. No one has ever gotten sick from anything that I’ve made, and I have a chance to share my bounty with others. This truly is a golden opportunity to live out our dream. Thanks to all of you for letting me share my story.

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