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City eyes ‘cottage food’ regs

The Sonora City Council on Monday moved forward with a proposed ordinance to regulate the commercial sales of homemade foods — otherwise known as “cottage food operations.”

Cottage food operations are permitted under the California Homemade Food Act, which became effective Jan. 1.

But since its implementation, cottage food operations within Sonora city limits haven’t been restricted in terms of concentration, traffic, parking and noise, Community Development Director Rachelle Kellogg said. 

The proposed ordinance adds the state’s definition of cottage food operations to the city municipal code and amends the city’s definition of “home occupation” to exclude the new operations. It also establishes city standards for selling food out of private homes.

Under the proposed ordinance, all sellers must have a business license and cottage food operations permit. The permit costs $50 and cannot be transferred between people or locations. 

Anyone who violates the permit could be fined and charged with an infraction, according to meeting documents. Subsequent violations could result in misdemeanor charges. 

Cottage food operations throughout city limits must be 300 feet apart and comply with the city’s noise regulations. 

All parking associated with operations must be on-site, and no more than one visitor’s vehicle and one non-resident employee vehicle can be parked on the site.

Only one full-time employee is permitted, not including residents and family members.

To regulate traffic, the ordinance requires direct sales from the home to be arranged by appointment and limited to one customer per hour per day.

Sales and deliveries can only be conducted during hours established by the city.

The city would prohibit signage, outdoor storage or anything else that identifies the residence as a cottage food operation. On-site dining for customers would also be prohibited.

In addition to the proposed city regulations, cottage food operations must comply with state guidelines, which are mainly enforced by the Tuolumne County Environmental Health Department.

According to state law, an operation cannot exceed a gross annual income of $25,000 this year, $45,000 in 2014 and $50,000 thereafter. 

Cottage food operations aren’t subject to initial or routine inspections unless they receive a consumer complaint or have been permitted to wholesale their products.

However, anyone who prepares or packages cottage food products must complete a food-processor course through the California Department of Public Health within three months of being registered or permitted.

Foods that can be sold cannot require refrigeration to keep them safe from bacteria. The list, along with labeling requirements, is available on the California Department of Public Health’s website (www.cdph.ca.gov). 

The City Council will decide whether to adopt the ordinance at its April 1 meeting. If adopted, Sonora residents would be subject to city regulations 30 days after its passage.

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