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Preparing commercial goods at home complex process

Submitted photo by Laura Brown

Last summer, Shaun McCloud started making sauces and rubs to pair with his father-in-law’s perfected barbecue ribs.

Now the systems administrator is selling his mustard barbecue sauce under the business name Mountain Mustard at five area retail stores and three local farmers markets.

McCloud is among a handful of Nevada County business owners who can now prepare low-risk foods like coffee, baked goods, mustards and chocolates in their home kitchens under a new California cottage food law.



Effective Jan. 1, the California Homemade Food Act, AB 1616, allows entrepreneurs like McCloud to venture into a cottage food business without the overhead investment of a commercial kitchen.

“I can kind of test the market to find out if it’s viable,” McCloud said.




So far, four people have completed the processes, another four are in the planning phase and one is nearing completion for a total of nine, said Peggy Zarriello, registered environmental health specialist with the Nevada County Department of Environmental Health.

It’s the first time in Zarriello’s 24-year history with Environmental Health that local business owners have been allowed to cook foods for sale in their home kitchens.

“I think it’s unprecedented… It’s really a neat opportunity for people to make extra money,” she said.

Without the new law, Debi and Ned Russell of Nevada City say they never would have started their business, Cello Chocolates.

By not paying for a commercial kitchen, they have freedom to make chocolate at their convenience while shaving overhead costs, said Debi Russell. The couple has a Class B permit to sell directly to the public and retail locations. They make handcrafted chocolate “from bean to bar” using only cocoa beans, sugar and cocoa butter, Fair Trade and Certified Organic when possible.

“We love that local artisans are now able to bring their product to the market legally. It allows a lot more collaboration and choices for the community,” said Debi Russell.

Home cooking permit a mixed bag

For business owners first looking into the law, the permitting process can seem daunting. Besides Environmental Health, applicants must go through their jurisdiction’s planning department. This can take a month and involve a water test and detailed site plans of roads, septic, wells, driveways, neighborhood boundaries, etc.

Halfway through the process, Susan Meagher of Nana’s Bakery almost gave up.

“It felt so complicated,” she said.

Instead, she decided to offer a class to help others figure out if AB 1616 is a good fit for them.

The first class was so popular she had to turn six people away at the door. Meagher will offer a repeat of the Cottage Food Operation Permit Process class from 6 to 8 p.m., June 19, at Sierra Commons, 792 Searls Ave. in Nevada City. Space for the class is limited and there is a $50 fee. Reservations for the class are required. Interested parties may register by contacting Jerri Glover at: nevadacountymakes@gmail.com or by calling 530-205-3104.

Meagher says the paperwork and time-consuming labeling required with the new Homemade Food permit is worth the effort. For three years she rented a commercial kitchen and doesn’t miss the days of packing and unpacking her car, storing ingredients in coolers and driving back and forth to the kitchen three to four days a week.

“It was a pain in the neck. It was a lot of time that I could have been producing. I love just getting up on Friday mornings and starting to bake,” she said.

With her new permit, Meagher can bake 200 different baked goods she has certified labels for with no inspections unless someone files a complaint.

“It’s a total honor system,” she said.

The foods allowed are all deemed safe by the state and proven to be “nonpotentially hazardous.”

Things such as candy, trail mix, dried fruit, vinegar and fruit pies are allowed while foods containing cream, custard or meat fillings are not. Foods must be labeled “Made in Home Kitchen” for consumers.

Inspections are required only for Class B permits for retail sales. It costs roughly $500 to $600 to go through the necessary planning and environmental health regulations.

While the law brings praise from some, others caution that it could chip away at civil liberties.

Local food freedom supporter Chuck Shea, of the California Association of Business, Property and Resource Owners, questions the new law and believes it creates excessive and demanding inspection and compliance requirements.

“We have, as a people, since we stopped being hunter-gatherers, had the right to grow and sell the food we produce to our neighbors and friends …This is not about food safety, it is about control, if you control the food, you control the people,” Shea said.

For a full list of foods allowed by the California Homemade Food Act visit: http://www.mynevada county.com/nc/cda/eh/Pages/Home.aspx

Contact freelance writer Laura Brown at laurabrown323@gmail.com or 401-4877.


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