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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 13th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 1 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 1

Straight from the kitchen

The Cottage Foods Act allows people to prepare food at home and sell it to consumers or retailers

BY SHELLY CONE

This year, home bakers can become business makers thanks to a new law legalizing home food preparation and sales.

The Cottage Foods Act went into effect in January, bringing with it the opportunity for California’s baking enthusiasts to carve out an income for themselves. The law allows individuals to register for a license with county governments to sell their nonperishable homemade goods.

For those who previously had only been able to bake for friends and family, the law’s passage opens up the prospect of actually creating a business out of what once was just a hobby. One such enthusiast is Bobbi Jo Thompson of Bobbi’s Cupcake Creations (Facebook.com/BobbisCupcakeCreations). Thompson had been baking for a couple of years as a hobby when she heard about the proposal to allow for home food prep and sales.

She took cake-decorating classes from Wilton and a food safety and equipment class. But when she heard about the law passing in November, she knew she wanted to get licensed.

“I was just waiting for the first of the year, and I just jumped on it as soon as I heard it passed,” she said.

With a Class A license, Thompson can sell directly to consumers, which she does by baking for friends and family events.

“It’s kind of an artistic outlet for me,” she said. “It’s fun to see the swirl come out of the tip and experiment with different flavors and research different frostings. It’s kind of a challenge for me to see what I can do.”

For Thompson, the ability to sell her creations is just a fun side endeavor that happens to bring in a little money as well, and she’s happy with that scenario.

“I love what I do for a living, and I’ll keep doing that as long as I can, but this makes people happy and it’s fun,” Thompson said.

Susan Klein Rothschild, assistant deputy director for the Public Health Department of Santa Barbara County, said there’s already been a strong interest in the law.

“It’s interesting because we have not made a big push for it yet. We do really think it’s a good thing for the community and a great opportunity for small businesses and entrepreneurs,” Rothschild said.

Like Thompson, Catherine Lake of Cathyz Cookies (Facebook.com/CathyzCookies) was one of those people who baked cookies for friends and family but was never able to sell them legally. Lake said she considers herself a “by the book” type of person and, as a teacher, she’s a stickler for following the rules, so she never tried to skirt the law.

Instead, she decided to look into getting her kitchen certified and discovered there was no process to do so.

“They looked at me funny and said, ‘We don’t certify kitchens,’” Lake said.

Then she got wind of the proposed Cottage Foods Act and signed up for updates. In November, she took some time off from her teaching job to recuperate from surgery and thought she’d also use that time to prepare for getting herself licensed.

“It was a surprisingly smooth process,” she said. “I was expecting to hear, ‘Well, you’ll have to do this and wait for that,’ but it was surprisingly smooth.”

Lake decided to go with a Class B license, which allows food sellers to sell wholesale to retail outlets. The process consisted of a kitchen inspection, which she’ll have to comply with annually. Her cookies can now be found at TnT Yogurt in Orcutt. She considered Valentine’s Day her launch day, and she completely sold out. She said many people recognize her cookies because they’ve had them at events and are glad to purchase them from someone they’re familiar with, someone local.

Lake said that’s the idea behind the law; it’s about community.

“Part of this whole Cottage Foods operation idea is buying locally and supporting your local community,” she said.

Larry Fay, director of the county’s Environmental Health Services, said currently there’s no fee for the Class A process and the county intends to keep it that way in order to encourage small business.

“Previously it was a significant undertaking with a lot of rigmarole, so two things happened: either they didn’t get started or they did it anyway,” Fay said.

Though the process for a Class A license doesn’t include a kitchen inspection, Fay said the there isn’t really a need.

“The things they are going to provide are very low risk. You really have to try to mess it up. Also, with the Class A, you have a kind of relationship there; the buyer knows they are getting something homemade and they are OK with that,” Fay said.

Lake agreed, saying most food sellers take pride in what they’re selling but that the registration number required to be able to prepare food under the new law also helps provide a sense of accountability.

“I know there are always people at my church selling food, like tamales. I’ve never had a bad experience buying from someone I don’t know, but having this really says, ‘I followed the rules,’ and that this food was made with safe procedures,” she said.

The requirements also include:

• All applicants must submit an application to the county.

• Foods need to carry a label that includes ingredients from largest amount to smallest.

• Foods must also carry a label that includes the Public Health Department contact information and the special registration number given to the applicant.

• Only non-perishable foods can be sold, which means nothing that has to be refrigerated or heated.

• Class B applicants must undergo a kitchen inspection annually and pay a $290 fee.

• There’s also a cap on the income: $35,000 in 2013; $45,000 or less in gross sales in 2014; and $50,000 or less in gross sales in 2015 and beyond.

For a complete list of requirements and to register, visit countyofsb.org/phd/environmentalhealth.aspx?id=41773.

Contact contributor Shelly Cone through the managing editor at aasman@santamariasun.com.