Small-time chefs get new regs

By Christina O'Haver, The Union Democrat April 02, 2013 12:07 pm

Sonora residents selling homemade foods will soon face stricter regulations.

The City Council on Monday unanimously approved an ordinance allowing the city to moderate “cottage food operations,” which are permitted under the California Homemade Food Act.

Since the state legislation was implemented Jan. 1, 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 ordinance adds the state’s definition of cottage food operations to the city municipal code and treats them differently than other types of home-based businesses. It also establishes city standards for selling food out of private homes.

“It lessens the impact in the neighborhoods,” Kellogg said at the meeting.

Under the ordinance, effective May 1, all sellers must obtain a business license and cottage food operations permit from the city. The permit costs $50 and cannot be transferred between people.

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.

The operation can only hire one full-time employee, not including residents and family members.

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

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

The ordinance bans signage, outdoor storage or anything else that identifies the residence as a cottage food operation. On-site dining for customers is also prohibited.

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

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

The state regulates gross annual income, permissible foods, labels and who can wholesale products. It also sets operational requirements to ensure operations are sanitary.

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 at www.cdph.ca.gov.