San Diego County Supervisors formally approve home kitchen program
In a unanimous vote Wednesday, San Diego County Supervisors officially gave the green light to micro-enterprise home kitchens, as part of a two-year program.
Supervisors approved a second reading of the ordinance allowing the operation of home kitchens, or "MEHKOs," which will take effect in 30 days.
On Jan. 12, supervisors unanimously approved the first reading of the ordinance, which includes requirements or operational provisions for categories including food safety certificate, allowable food storage areas, the number of MEHKOs allowed per residence, potable water and ongoing testing.
Supervisor Nora Vargas first proposed allowing MEHKOs last September along with colleague Joel Anderson. According to Anderson and Vargas, MEHKO benefits include:
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— significant economic opportunities for small-scale, home-cooking operations, which are primarily operated by women, immigrants, and people of color;
— encouraging existing "informal" home food operations to become safer and legal;
— enabling family members to continue providing in-home care for developmentally disabled and/or older relatives while still earning much-needed income;
— creating another path to supplementing family income for those hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic;
— letting aspiring restaurateurs to try out a menu while learning the basics of what it takes to run a small-scale retail food operation;
— providing additional food service options in remote locations; and
— kitchen operators paying state taxes and acquiring business licenses.
According to Anderson's office, the model for home kitchen operations was introduced in the state Legislature in 2018, and allows counties to authorize permitted home kitchens through an ordinance. There are limitations, including that the food must be sold on the same day it was prepared, and an annual earning cap of $50,000.
Several callers praised the decision. One woman said MEHKOs will not only help operators recover financially, "but physically, emotionally and spiritually heal as well.
"This ordinance will be a game-changer for the community," she added.
While another caller was concerned about MEHKOs having proper insurance coverage, Karen Melvin, with the San Diego Microenterprise Home Kitchen Coalition, said there are companies that will cover them.
"I look forward to bringing back good data and one success story after another," Melvin said about the program.
Supervisors participated in Wednesday's meeting via teleconference, as a precaution during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.