How to Sell Homemade Food in Riverside County
Yes – it is now legal to sell and buy homemade food in California. The key thing to note is that each county must opt-in to the law in order to issue the necessary health permits that allow food sales.
The legislation was pioneered and authored in Riverside County and has now become a model for other states. Here’s a brief history of how this came to be and how people can buy and sell homemade food in their neighborhood.
How can you sell homemade food from home?
In late 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown signed assembly bill number 626 (AB 262) into law. This established program guidelines for “home restaurants” called microenterprise home kitchen operations – or MEHKO. This law allows counties in California to opt-in and establish MEHKO programs. In general, in order to obtain a MEHKO license, a prospective home cook must complete the following 4 steps below.
STEP 1. Submit your MEHKO Standard Operating Procedures
This form initiates your review of your application. You will be asked to acknowledge the general requirements of a MEHKO as well as answer basic questions about your home kitchen and its facilities.
Before you complete the form, you should be prepared with the following information, including, but not limited to:
- The name of your business
- The address from which you will operate your MEHKO
- The days and times of week you plan to operate
- How you will advertise your business
- Whether you will list your business on certain sites
- Whether you will work with an intermediary (see more on IFSIs below)
- How you will clean and sanitize your cookware
- A list of foods / menu items that you will sell and equipment that will be used to prepare it
STEP 2. Obtain a Food Manager Certificate
Enroll in an accredited food safety program and pass their tests. You can do this before step 1, but we recommend you are aware of requirements before you sign up for a food manager course.
A few things to note: You will need to take an online course and a proctored exam. Depending on the course you sign up with, allow yourself 4 to 8 hours to study the material before taking the exam. There are a few programs you can enroll in to get your California food manager certification. Companies like ServSafe offer a training and exam package for $179.
STEP 3. Submit a permit application to the Riverside County Environmental Health Agency
You will then need to submit a simple one-page form to apply for your MEHKO permit. You should complete the first two steps before moving on to this stage of your application.
STEP 4: Have your home kitchen inspected
After you submit your application for a MEHKO permit, the health agency will reach out to you to schedule an inspection. On the day of your inspection, make sure you clean and sanitize your home kitchen thoroughly. They will also inquire about any vehicles that will transport food. Areas that may be under inspection:
- Home kitchen
- Consumer eating area (if you have customers dine at your home)
- Appliances, utensils, equipment
- Cleaning area / facilities
- Waste storage area
Once you obtain your permit, you can start marketing your home restaurant and be on your way to building your small business!
Be aware of restrictions
Additionally, the law also lists annual revenue limits, daily/weekly meal quantity limits, and more, so check your local health agency for a complete list of requirements and rules. Some known limitations as of writing this:
- A maximum of 30 meals a day and 60 meals a week can be sold
- Food must be prepared and sold ion the same day
- Delivery to customers must be done by an employee of your business or member of your household
- Only one MEHKO per household is allowed
- No outdoor signage is allowed
- Restrictions on specific ingredients apply (e.g., raw milk cannot be used)
Where to list your MEHKO? (Hint: Try an “IFSI”)
Recent legislation also allows for Internet Food Service Intermediaries (IFSI) to assist home cooks advertise and sell their food online or via an app. IFSIs are a bit like Etsy, in the sense that buyers and sellers use the platform to complete their transactions. Typically IFSIs will take a commission of your sale or similar revenue share in order to list your business on their marketplace. We suggest doing a brief search in your area to see if an IFSI is available to list your food.
Have more questions? Be sure to visit the MEHKO page at the Riverside County Department of Environmental Health website. Another great resource is the Cook Alliance , an organization that help shape the MEKHO legislation here in California. The Cook Alliance has a lot of great articles and resources for those at the beginning of their home kitchen venture.