Capitol Alert

Should selling home-cooked meals be a crime in California?

Mariza Ruelas, a single mother of six in Stockton, had been selling homemade Mexican dishes through a tight-knit Facebook group for about a year when an undercover investigator bought a plate of ceviche from her last July. Local prosecutors charged her for operating without a license, and after fighting the case for months, Ruelas, who said she was just trying to make some extra money, agreed in January to 80 hours of community service.

“I felt like the punishment didn’t fit the crime,” she said. “We’re doing something good for the community. We’re doing something that we love to do.”

Ruelas is among those now pushing for Assembly Bill 626 to legalize small-scale home cooking operations. The measure, from Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, would require individuals to obtain a permit, meet health and safety standards, and keep annual gross sales below $50,000.

Josephine, an Oakland-based company that runs an online platform for home cooks to sell their food, sponsored the bill. Founder Charley Wang said AB 626 would especially help many minority women who can’t get jobs in the food industry because they have to care for their families, they lack the language skills or there are few restaurants in their communities.

“These are the people who have been systematically excluded from the industry,” he said. “But they’re phenomenal cooks and they add a lot to their households.”

AB 626 is awaiting a vote in the Assembly Health Committee. The County Health Executives Association of California and the Health Officers Association of California are opposed, citing potential dangers to public health.

“No matter how well-intentioned, home-cooked meals prepared for the public pose risk of foodborne illness,” Kat DeBurgh, executive director of the health officers association, wrote in a letter to the committee.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff