Home businesses are an invaluable source of revenue for many unable to join the traditional workforce, but some of those selling homemade meals have fallen through the cracks in Santa Barbara County — until now.
The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to opt in to a law allowing individuals in single-family homes to legally prepare and sell certain foods to the public. The law, based on Assembly Bill 626, creates a new food facility category: microenterprise home kitchen operations (MEHKOs).
MEHKOs are small-scale operations that provide and sell food from a home facility, including potentially hazardous foods like poultry, meat, and dairy. The cap for compliance is 30 meals per day or 60 meals per week.
County Director of Environmental Health Services Larry Fay said there are many illegal operations throughout the county selling homemade meals on Facebook Marketplace, and the new law allows a pathway to compliance.
“One of the major problems we run into with food facilities is that when you cook something, you want to cool it, hold it, and reheat it,” Fay said. “It leaves a lot of opportunities for violations, and the controlled process would reduce the opportunity for microbial growth.”
Currently, illegal operations are simply shut down when discovered, but the new health permit process will offer them food safety education and standards for compliance. Bobbi Thompson, a certified professional food safety manager and county representative for Cook Alliance, said she proudly supports the new law.
“This permit will build healthy, resilient communities and create economic opportunities for the people that need it the most,” Thompson said. “Cooks from underserved communities, primarily women, immigrants, and people of color, will use their skills to generate extra income.”
The supervisors fully supported the amendment. “We’ll give you an opportunity … to get some people in the door and give them some training,” Supervisor Peter Adam said. “That’s probably better than trying to chase all the illegal operations around, and it may result in more people eating better quality food, and that’s a good thing.”
Public Health Department Director Van Do-Reynoso agreed: “I think part of the outreach is not only pulling in home cooks who are currently doing it, but also raising community awareness that, hey, if you buy food from a home vendor, they should have that insignia.”
The law can only be applied to the county as a whole. Because individual cities cannot opt out, Fay and Do-Reynoso said they would come back to the board in late July after engaging with the cities and communities.