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Officials prepared to help cottage food businesses

December 20, 2012

Thanks to the California Homemade Food Act, effective Jan. 1, properly registered and permitted individuals will be able to prepare and sell a variety of specialty foods to the public and through retailers and restaurants. Fruit butters, chocolates, trail mixes and dried herbs (clockwise from top left) are among those products. Photos courtesy of MetroCreativeConnections

Local officials have put together a plan to help home-based food entrepreneurs set up businesses making and selling their culinary specialties in 2013.
Thanks to the passage of the California Homemade Food Act (AB 1616), residents will be able to legally make and sell specified food items from their home kitchens beginning Jan. 1. These foods include certain baked goods, preserved fruit, dried herbs and pastas, syrups, coffees and teas. However, only “non-potentially hazardous foods” can be used – essentially foods that don’t need refrigeration to prevent bacterial growth that could make people sick.
In preparation for implementation of the law, the County of Inyo and City of Bishop have created an application package, fee schedule and approved food list; made zoning changes; and set up a variety of avenues to assist cottage industry owners through the registration and permitting process, said Inyo County Environmental Health Department Director Marvin Moskowitz. In general, California’s county environmental health agencies have had a turnaround in their former position on homemade food sales, he added.
Prior to AB 1616, under the California Retail Food Code, or CalCode, homemade food businesses were not allowed. The California Homemade Food Act, also known as the Cottage Food Act, represents a “relaxation of health standards, which allows cottage food industries to provide economic relief in this difficult economic climate,” said Moskowitz. “(County environmental health departments) are all behind it, statewide. We have been working closely with the Farmer’s Market and the State Farm Advisor’s Office (Master Gardeners, community gardens, etc.), who have been very active in the whole local, healthy foods movement.”
The Cottage Food Act holds local planning and environmental health jurisdictions responsible to implement the law. Inyo County Planning Department has made changes that effect unincorporated Inyo County (everywhere except the City of Bishop) so that Cottage Food Operations are an approved residential activity. CFO owners can now operate out of their homes without buying expensive Conditional Use Permits, which can cost “in excess of $1,000 or so,” said Moskowitz.
The zoning changes, which also regulate hours of operation, number of vehicular round trips permitted per day and other activities, are designed to prevent or at least reduce neighborhood disruption by CFOs, he added. The City of Bishop will also make changes, similar to those made by the county, to accommodate CFOs, confirmed City of Bishop Public Works Director David Grah.
AB 1616 states that environmental health agencies are responsible to “make sure people are aware of the state’s allowable food list; application process; training programs and self-certification checklist,” added Moskowitz. And the agencies are also “working on inter-county reciprocity agreements so that a registered Inyo County CFO, for example, “can sell their wares in Mono County without having to register there, and vice versa.”
A CFO is defined as a business that operates out of a home, or other leased space where people live, where low-risk food products are prepared or packaged for sale. There are two CFO classifications: Class A allows direct sale and Class B allows both direct sale and indirect sales.
In a direct sale, customers buy directly from the cottage industry, which includes venues such as farmers markets and event booths. In an indirect sale, a CFO can also sell to third-party retailers, such as stores and restaurants.
While the standards have been relaxed, there are no free rides. CFO owners must take a course, submit a completed self-certification check list and application and pay one or more fees depending on how and where they plan to do business.
Training: CFO food handlers, including the one full-time employee each cottage industry is allowed, must complete a California Department of Public Health food processor course within three months of being registered/permitted. It probably won’t be available until July 2013, said Moskowitz, however CFO owners and workers can obtain a food handler card, which certifies that they have basic training in food safety. There is a link to the course at www.inyocounty.us.
Application: The application will be available at the same website by the end of 2012, said Moskowitz, and “we always encourage people to call or email” Inyo County Environmental Health Department at (760) 878-0261, (760) 873-7867 or mmoskowitz@inyocounty.us. “We want to make sure that everyone” has access to the proper information and is following the proper procedures.
Permits/Fees: Class A CFO permits will cost $50 annually and those CFOs are not inspected routinely. Class B CFOs, which must undergo an initial inspection before a permit is issued, will cost $146 because Class Bs are inspected annually.
Additional environmental health department inspections can be prompted by a customer complaint, suspicion of unsafe products, self-certification checklist violations, improper labeling, etc. Failed inspections could result in suspended permits if an “eminent health risk” is determined, said Moskowitz.
CFOs may be required to pay additional non-environmental fees such as city business and county peddlers’ licence (for trade done outside of Bishop); city, county or special district fees; and an assessor’s office fees.
Cottage food operations that will operate within Bishop city limits must also obtain a business license. That application is available at City Hall, 377 W. Line St., and at www.ca-bishop.us. The cost is $40 per year plus a $1 state fee, unless one lives outside of Bishop city limits; then it’s $50 annually. Call City of Bishop Community Services Secretary Karey Poole at (760) 873-5863 for more information.
Self-certification Checklist: The self-certification checklist can be obtained at www.inyocounty.us or at Inyo County Environmental Health Department at 168 N. Edwards St. in Independence or 207 W. South St. in Bishop.
Rules of Operation: The self-certification checklist basically lists CFO rules during business operation, said Moskowitz. Here is a summary:
• No regular household activity, smoking, infants, small children, pets or people with contagious illnesses in the kitchen.
• Food-prep equipment and surfaces must be kept clean and sanitized and in good repair.
• Only potable water can be used. If CFO owners have their own wells, a bacterial analysis of water supply will be required; Inyo County labs are available.
• Food labels must include information such as: “Made in a Home Kitchen;” the business name; registration/permit numbers and issuing agencies; and ingredients.
• Sales limits: $35,000 for 2013, $45,000 in 2014, and $50,000 thereafter.
• Allowed foods include: baked goods without dairy or meat fillings; chocolate-covered nuts and dried fruit; dried pastas; herb blends; mole paste; dry baking mixes; fruit empanadas; granola and trail mix; honey and sweet sorghum syrup; preserves and butters; nut mixes and popcorn; vinegar and mustard; roasted coffees and dried tea; and pizzelles and waffle cones.

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