As SFoodie's "Going Legit" series last summer chronicled, starting a food business in this city is almost ludicrously difficult. Even if you go on the cheap, navigating city and state regulations and finding a commercial kitchen can be expensive, time-consuming, and bewildering. And with dying down of the street-cart movement and the closure of the SF Underground Market, there are few outlets for not-quite-legal food vendors to sell their wares.
That's why a number of states are passing "cottage food," which allow people to make and sell certain kinds of products out of their home kitchens. The most recent CUESA newsletter has all the details on AB 1616, a cottage food bill introduced in the California legislature last month by Assemblymember Mike Gatto of LA.
Backed by the Oakland-based Sustainable Economies Law Center, AB 1616 would change the California Health and Safety code to give small-scale producers a way to break in to the business. Like most cottage laws, AB 1616 wouldn't cover foods like jerky, hot cooked dishes, cheeses, or custards. But jams, pickles, breads, fruit pies, spice blends, and herb teas -- basically, low-risk foods not covered by other federal regulations -- would be exempted. The health department won't inspect the business or get involved with the producer unless a complaint is lodged.
AB 1616 is a little fuzzy on what kinds of registration fees would be imposed on new businesses, what kinds of food-safety training they'll be required to take, and limits on how big their production can grow before the producer needs to get fully permitted. But it could make it a hell of a lot easier for aspiring artisans to get started.
SFoodie will be covering the bill as it moves through the state legislature. If you're interested in learning more right now, the SELC's Cottage Food Campaign site has details about cottage food around the country, and 18 Reasons will be hosting a Kitchen Table Talk on cottage food on March 27. And, of course, there's an opportunity for one-click activism at Change.org.