California Waives Public Health Inspections for Street Food

Numerous street vendors and restaurants must rename hotdogs or risk being refused a halal certificate in Malaysia

California on Thursday allowed cities and counties to waive public health laws to allow the sale of up to $50,000 a year of food prepared by unregulated home and mobile kitchens.

Despite uniform opposition from California counties and public authorities that tainted food already sickens 48 million Americans each year, Gov. Brown signed AB-626: ‘California Retail Food Code: Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations’ that allows local government to permit “microenterprise home kitchens” selling food to consumers.

The bill limits sales to home kitchen sales to 30 individual meals per day, 60 individual meals per week, and no more than $50,000 in verifiable gross annual sales.

California passed AB-161: ‘Cottage Food Act’ in 2012 to allow a health a regulatory exemption for limited home sales of non-perishable foods, such as granola and jams. But restrictions generated a campaign claiming that CFA discriminated against cooks independently benefiting from their labor, skills and limited resources to prepare meals in private homes to sell to the public, such as street tamales.

Oakland home cooking start-up Josephine, supposedly “founded by home cooks and labor justice advocates,” began a campaign in October 2015 named ‘C.O.O.K. Alliance’ to convince California’s Legislature to legalize small-scale “informal” home food kitchens and food incubators by allowing formalizing of operations into legitimate businesses.

California restaurants and grocery store sales have been governed by the California Retail Food Safety Coalition, a broad-based coalition of federal, state, and local regulators and the retail food industry. Regulations are modeled after U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s scientific and evidence-based Model Food Code practices.

County and city Environmental Health Directors are the primary enforcement agents for CRFC and focus their food facility inspections on minimizing food-borne illness risks. EHD’s charge inspection fees ranging from $150 to $750, depending on facility size.

The AB-626 advocates promised home kitchens would only serve end customers, be available for inspections, and follow health, training, and sanitation standards.

But the California Legislative Analyst reported unanimous public health opposition from the California State Associations of Urban and Rural Counties, County Health Executives Association, and the Health Officers Association of California.

Opponents expressed strong concerns regarding potentially hazardous food prepared in home kitchens, including lack of staff training and no assurance of appropriate hot and cold temperature controls. Officials were especially worried about hazards, wastewater controls and the exponential risk of the spread of pathogens.

But the C.O.O.K. Alliance gathered 65,000 signatures to a petition calling for home cooked food legalization, organized 2,000 calls to legislators. But AB-626 advocates also signed up over 100 organizational co-sponsors including Airbnb; Border Grill Restaurants & Catering; California Asian Pacific Chamber of Commerce; California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights; Community Food and Justice Coalition; Crowdfund Better; Law and Policy Clinic, Harvard Law School; The Big Girls Food Blog; The University Neighborhood Association; UC Davis Student Housing and Dining; and Women’s Foundation of California.

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