One of the most popular components of the sharing economy is homemade food. In California, in-home restaurants, tamale carts, and the ever-popular bake sales have been a long standing tradition, albeit against state regulations. In almost every state in the United States, selling food made at home is illegal, which makes it difficult for startups to introduce their small homemade food businesses on mobile app platforms.
At present, there are many mobile and online platforms facilitating pop-up dinners from people’s homes. The most popular platforms include Feastly, EatWith, MealSurfers, UmiKitchen and MyTable. Some of them provide delivery services from home chefs’ kitchens. Food is a big industry in the sharing economy in California, in fact, almost as big as the overall restaurant industry which is dominated by commercial caterers and restaurants in Melrose place.
However, most states require that all food sold to the public be prepared and cooked in commercial kitchens. In some states, there are a few exceptions to this rule such as baked foods and other less potentially hazardous consumables. In California, regulations on retail food do not recognize home kitchens as commercial food facilities. The food code nonetheless has not stopped home startups from introducing homemade food into the state’s sharing economy.
California’s strict commercial food preparation law
Under the present California law, any kitchen used in the preparation of commercially sold food must follow the same health and safety regulations as a restaurant. The law effectively outlaws most of the home-cooking operations that cannot afford restaurant quality food preparation equipment. For example, the state’s health and safety rules demand that a kitchen cooking food to be sold to customers must have non-absorbent countertops and not less than three sinks.
You can’t sell food in California legally if you don’t have a kitchen sink 18 measuring at least inches long, 18 inches wide, and 12 inches deep. This is a kitchen sink specifically used in washing and preparing food ingredients. You will also need another sink that has three or more compartments including metal drainboards for cleaning, rinsing, and sanitizing your dishes. The light bulbs above the food preparation area should be shielded or made shatterproof. Besides having non-absorbent or stainless steel countertops, you are also required to have can openers that have a piercing part that can be removed for cleaning purposes. The cost of setting up such a kitchen is definitely over $50,000, which is way above what many startups can afford.
The homemade food operation bill
Two state legislators have introduced a bill to change the regulation against selling homemade food commercially. The bill argues that many proficient cooks in California cannot legally participate in the state’s food preparation economy and earn deserving income due to lack of appropriate regulations. Thousands of home caterers, private home chefs, and food micro-entrepreneurs are now forced to run unlicensed and unsupervised food facilities. The bill, which was introduced by two members of the California Democratic Assembly, Dr. Joaquin Arambula and Eduardo Garcia, seeks to include a new commercial food preparation facility simply known as “the homemade food operation” to the state’s Health and Safety code.