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Home Kitchen Operations Approved


Last updated 2/25/2022 at 2:55pm

For those folks who love to cook or bake, and who want to make a little money on the side working out of their own kitchen, the County’s new Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operation (MEHKO) may be just the thing. Operated by a resident in a private home where food is stored, handled, and prepared for same-day consumption, meals and/or baked goods can be either eaten on-site or delivered to the customer.

As reported in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Nora Vargas and Joel Anderson, representing County Supervisorial Districts 1 & 2, respectively, announced the MEHKO program after a unanimous vote on Jan. 12.

“These home-based food businesses uplift non-traditional food entrepreneurs who are usually women, immigrants, people of color and others facing barriers when looking to start their own business, especially as they try to do so during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says the U-T article.

Vargas and Anderson listed the benefits of MEHKO in their news article as follows:

Enables San Diego families to net $35-40,000 per year on revenues of $50,000;

It gives a path to the thousands of illegal food operations in SD County to operate legally while undergoing regular health inspections;

Generates hundreds of thousands of dollars in general fund sales tax revenues for cities and the County;

Creates a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs, especially women;

Enriches San Diego County’s food diversity by offering hundreds of new, tasty and nutritious neighborhood-focused places to get freshly prepared meals;

Provides an additional income for lower-income families;

Provides an income opportunity to family members who may not be able to work away from the home, due to caring for disabled family members, children, and the elderly;

Serves as proof-of-concept, allowing those considering starting a restaurant to gaining valuable experience without incurring the large debt associated with most restaurant start-ups; and

Improves the credit position of entrepreneurs who will need to qualify for loans to get a full-scale restaurant up and running.

Of course, there is the usual amount of bureaucracy involved in starting a MEHKO operation, with specific rules and regs that 1) restrict the type of food allowed, 2) limit the number of meals to 30 per day or 60 per week, 3) meet standards of quality and public safety, and 4) allow only one paid employee. CFO’s are also required to complete a food processor training course within three months of approval of their permit, plus provide proper labeling for each food category sold.

The approved food list allows for hot meals, but also baked goods “without cream, custard, or meat fillings.” The approved/not approved list is extensive, so those interested should do their research on what they can cook or bake, and the labeling requirements involved, starting with the California Department of Public Health Cottage Food website:

In neighboring Riverside County, where MEHKO ops were approved two years ago, it now has over 130 licensed MEHKOs and have served over 100,000 meals with not a single case of food-borne illness recorded. In a records request by Karen Melvin from the San Diego MEKHO coalition, she found that of the 28 cities complying with her request, there were only two minor complaints and had nothing to do with food safety. So, for those entrepreneurs who want to provide meals or baked goods to others, and make some money in the process, check out the requirements and restrictions and get ready to fire up those stoves and ovens.