The Board of Supervisors Tuesday set an April 16 public hearing on a proposed ordinance establishing rules and regulations for home-based cooks to serve hot and cold meals on a daily basis anywhere in Riverside County.
Supervisor Chuck Washington cast the sole dissenting vote against moving Ordinance No. 949 forward, saying he was unsatisfied that the measure contained sufficient provisions to “protect the general public from health hazards.”
“Food trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants have to meet higher standards,” Washington said. “This is not a level playing field for them, when you think about all they have to go through to ensure the public is being served safe food products.”
The Department of Environmental Health drafted the ordinance in response to the passage of Assembly Bill 626, which was signed into law by former Gov. Jerry Brown last September and created a set of guidelines to permit the operation of so-called “micro-enterprise home kitchens.”
“This is already happening, has been for decades,” Supervisor Manuel Perez said. “This is an opportunity for us, quite frankly, to regulate and ensure there’s a good system in place.”
A person who wants to bake or make edibles for profit and serve them at home — or deliver them to another location the same day — is be permitted to do so, as long as no more than 30 meals are served daily — or 60 meals weekly.
The cost of obtaining a county-issued permit for a micro-enterprise home kitchen would be $651 annually.
Operators would only qualify if their home-based enterprise generates $50,000 or less in revenue, according to parameters established by AB 626.
The law does not impose the same regulations by which general commercial food facilities, such as restaurants, have to abide, including having a three-compartment sink, using specific methods of handling certain products, or ensuring a defined separation between the dining area and bathrooms or other spaces.
Cooks would, however, would have to obtain “food handler” certification from the county to demonstrate an understanding of basic safe preparation, storage and service techniques.
Cooks would also be required to create a menu for inspection and maintain regular days and hours of operation, according to the proposed ordinance.
Supervisor Karen Spiegel questioned the effectiveness of conducting just one inspection of the kitchens annually — and only then with formal notice given to the proprietor of exactly when county staff will be paying a visit.
“That’s not really ensuring a fair evaluation,” she said. “And we are putting the county’s credibility on the line.”
Department of Environmental Health Director Keith Jones said AB 626 put limits on what counties can do on the enforcement end.
Internet-based advertising would be allowed, but posting signs or other outdoor displays to stimulate business would be prohibited under the ordinance.
Meals could feature stove-cooked meats, green salads, bakery goods and other products.
According to Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Indio, the aim of AB 626 was to “support healthy communities … and economically empower talented home cooks with a pathway to attain income self-sufficiency.”
The legislation was an expansion of the 2012 California Homemade Food Act, which provided a means for cottage food preparers to make money selling pies, fruit jams and a range of dried edibles, but little else. To bypass some of the stricter elements of the California Retail Food Code, the micro-enterprise home kitchen concept was put forward.
The California State Association of Counties and other groups opposed it, based on concerns that the public might face greater risks of contracting food-borne illnesses.
Ordinance No. 949 would mandate penalties for violations of food handling and preparation standards. Fines would range from $50 to $1,000, and misdemeanor charges could be filed, depending on the offense.
If approved, the ordinance would apply to all unincorporated communities and cities in the county.