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As Riverside Becomes First California County To Allow Vendors To Sell Home-Cooked Meals, Other Counties Wait And See

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Food is given away at the Capitol at a rally to support legalizing the sale of homemade food.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Starting in early June, home cooks in Riverside County will be the first in California to be able to sell meals prepared in their own kitchens.

A law legalizing "micro-enterprise kitchens" in California went into effect in January. But it’s up to each county to decide whether to opt into the law by putting its own health and safety regulations in place.

Under the Riverside ordinance, home cooks can apply for a microenterprise home kitchen permit from the county to sell up to 30 home-cooked meals a day and up to 60 meals a week. Vendors must pay a $651 fee and are required to pass a safety certification exam and follow California food safety code guidelines.

Riverside County’s action is not likely to cause a domino effect in the short term, according to Peter Ruddock, implementation coordinator of COOK Alliance, which advocates for local regulations in support of home cooks.

Ruddock expects other counties will be slow to move forward with permitting because local public health officials still have a range of concerns, such as whether home cooks will handle food safely to prevent the spread of foodborne illness.

But he argues that “home cooks are going to do the right thing” given the training, preparation and inspections required under the law.

Those reservations were echoed by Yolo county Supervisor Don Saylor.

"The Yolo county health department has serious public safety concerns about this issue,” Saylor said. The topic is not currently scheduled for consideration, Saylor said.

Earlier this month the Yolo County Environmental Health Department cited Foodnome, a local home cook collective in the Davis area, for handing out free quesadillas at Picnic Day in Davis. The warning said the county has no plans to opt into permitting micro-enterprise kitchens, according to Foodnome founder Akshay Prabhu.

Foodnome is part of an active community of home cooks throughout California. Prabhu says he’s gathered 100 cooks in Sacramento and Yolo county “who are actively seeking these permits in hopes of being able to start legal food businesses from their homes.”

The California Homemade Food Act went into effect in 2013, allowing home cooks to sell a limited number of mainly non-perishable food items prepared in home kitchens.

That legislation was followed by AB 626, which was sponsored by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella). The law, which went into effect in January, legalized the sale of perishable meals prepared in home kitchens but left it up to counties to decide whether to opt in by establishing their own healthy and safety regulations.

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