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If cooking is your jam, Boston is looking at ways to let you sell what you whip up in your kitchen

The Boston City Council and various city departments have started looking at how to let home cooks legally sell some of their victuals and treats

The state already has regulations aimed at letting home chefs sell non-temperature-dependent goods, such as breads, cookies, jams, trail mix, honey and popcorn balls, but, of course, Boston needs its own regulations to ensure entrepreneurial home cooks are making and selling these "cottage foods" safely. Several city departments and agencies, including ISD and its health department, the BPDA, the Mayor's Office of Small Business and even the Fire Department have begun talking about the issue.

At-large City Councilor Julia Mejia requested a hearing, held today, to bring together both food entrepreneurs and city officials to begin drafting an ordinance and associated changes to the zoning code.

Mejia said there are many people who could take advantage of a city ordinance because they like to cook but don't yet have the experience or money to rent expensive commercial space.

She won quick praise from Councilor Kenzie Bok (Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Fenway, Mission Hill), who said the measure could be a boon to immigrants in an immigrant city like Boston who like to cook and who have an entrepreneurial spirit.

Councilor Lydia Edwards (East Boston, Charlestown, North End), who chaired the hearing of the Government Operations Committee, also supported the idea, but, as the owner of a triple decker, she wondered how it would all work in a city where so many people rent their apartments and kitchens.

ISD Commissioner Dion Irish said he and other city officials have been working on the premise that home kitchens would need to go through the city zoning process, which would involve a hearing before the Zoning Board of Appeal - and an appearance by the apartment's owner to give his or her OK. But even before that, the BPDA and the Zoning Commission, which is separate from the zoning board, would have to approve an amendment to the city zoning code because it currently has no provisions at all for such a thing.

English said his department is also looking at ways to ensure the foods from people's kitchens are safe - even beyond the fact they would not be allowed to sell dishes that need to be kept hot or cold, such as anything cream filled or savory meat pastries. This could include requiring would-be home chefs to take both food-safety and allergen courses - the latter consists of watching an online video, as well as setting up a system of annual inspections of the kitchens.

Still up for discussion: How much to charge for a license or fees for the new system. English, who said "there's a strong interest in our city for this," said he's hopeful the current planning process can come up with "equitable fees."

The next step for the council would be for Edwards's committee to hold a "working session" to draw up a specific ordinance to submit to the council for its approval - and, if it votes yes, for the approval of either current Mayor Marty Walsh or impending acting Mayor Kim Janey, depending on when its passed and when Walsh is approved as labor secretary and moves to Washington.

Once that happens, and the required zoning changes are made, then the city can begin offering a variety of programs to help with everything from permitting to technical and legal advice, to the new purveyors, Natalia Urtubey, the city's director of small business, said.

Edwards said that ultimately, she would love to see a way to expand ways for budding food entrepreneurs to get into the field, both by letting home chefs sell at least some temperature-dependent foods and by expanding food trucks and food carts across the city. She said that when she goes to New York or, in the before times, the Common, there would be food carts everywhere, while you never see anything like that in East Boston, even with its own large park right on the water.

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Comments

If this new program launches, this would be a wonderful opportunity for the city and community to partner with Roxbury and Bunker Hill community colleges and other adult continuing ed programs to develop a food science course for people interested in developing their own cottage food business.

For instance, you make a mean jam or jelly at home, but do you know the FDA food code that prescribes how the minimum amount of fruit goes into a jelly or when to legally call something a jam vs a jelly?

Also, it’s worth knowing how to test and document your jams and jellies for pH and water activity for food safety purposes. It takes some investment in equipment and a little time to learn, but it’s not all that hard and the piece of mind, accountability is worth it.

If you can learn how to to make a delicious jam, you can easily learn these other food science and food safety skills, but it can be intimidating and challenging to teach yourself how to do it. (I am only using jam as an example because of Adam’s headline, but this is true for a multitude of products.)

There are plenty of smart and talented people and great institutions that could partner to make a comprehensive educational program happen to support a home kitchen industry.

And a further idea would be to have semi-regular or regular farmer’s market-style gatherings that feature only by independent small home food vendors.

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Some might say “people are already cooking out of their home kitchens, why add regulation to the mix?” While it might be true that your friend that bakes cookies or the woman who makes granola out of her house is not making anyone sick, there are plenty of foods like canned/preserved food that are suceptible to deadly foodborne pathogens and foods like cooked meats that are temperature/time sensitive that, if mishandled, could cause severe issues with public health.

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This would be great but I fear in my beloved city this will take about 10 years to be put through. Boston is slow to do anything and while other cities are making amazing progress we are still just puttering behind them.

I make jams, breads, etc and I'd love to be able to sell the items but most home kitchens would not pass inspection (never mind the amount of time it would take to get an inspector there).

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I suspect you're right. We already went through an entire presidency and still no recreational pot stores have opened in Boston proper despite legalization during the same election.

I like this idea. Insurance is a must though. Home cooks will be open to legal troubles. Especially if someone gets sick.

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Can you send a city inspector over to check my kitchen?
Nevermind ,we had a private transaction over the back fence..wink wink.

No one said anything about your kitchen.

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ISD Commissioner Dion Irish said he and other city officials have been working on the premise that home kitchens would need to go through the city zoning process, which would involve a hearing before the Zoning Board of Appeal

“Home kitchens” here means you are producing food out of your kitchen for commercial sale.

ISD is not going door-to-door looking at your kitchens.

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Seems so eager to not have their kitchen inspected, maybe it should be.

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Then you don't need this. This is pretty obviously directed at people looking to expand beyond sales over their back fence.

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So in order to sell jam and trail mix from my home.... I have to appear before the ZBA, get my landlord to appear before the ZBA, pay a fee, get the kitchen inspected annually and take courses.

Seems like classic Boston bureaucracy. And won't make any measurable change whatsoever. most of the people who do this serve hot food anyway.

Who would do this? Who is buying bread and jam from someone's home? Enough to sustain a business? This is a good idea that will be stripped down to the bare bones.

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The point, I believe, is to have a middle-ground for people who are looking to do this on a small scale that's less cumbersome and less investment than opening a full-fledged business - while still protecting consumers. It doesn't need to be instant or incredibly simple to be useful or valuable (and I'm not sure we'd want a setup that allowed anyone to sell anything without any consideration of product safety etc); it just needs to be quicker and easier than what's already in place.

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I speak as someone who has operated a meal delivery business from a commercial kitchen for several years. You can find commercial kitchen space for rent, where much of this has already been handled. Obviously, going the rental route will be quite a bit more expensive.

There are a few reasons this won't nearly be as great as it seems:
- The items they will allow you to produce simply do not have margins that you'd really need to make this a long term business. Could it happen? Sure. Likely? No.
- There is a *lot* more to it than just getting permission to create said goods. It's not like you're gonna get this one approval and be off to the races.
- You'd be allowing ISD into your home. You (or your landlord) better hope they don't find other violations along the way. Also: what kind of landlord would allow this kind of thing?

Bottom line is that tons of folks have this grand dream of how great it would be to start something like this. It is WAY more involved than most people think it is.

You'd be allowing ISD into your home. You (or your landlord) better hope they don't find other violations along the way. Also: what kind of landlord would allow this kind of thing?

Uh, as a tenant, if ISD is going to be finding violations, then I want them to come and inspect my place. And if my landlord doesn't want ISD inspecting the place, then I really want them to come inspect it. What reason would you have as a tenant for not wanting this?

If you are deriving income from making and packaging homemade jam, yes, you should be able to demonstrate to the city and to any jurisdiction in which you sell such jams that a.) you know how to make the product without contaminating it with C. botulinum and b.) you have tested and have record of each lot’s relevant safety metrics.

This isn’t the same as making brownies for the Election Day bake sale.

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Time to put my cooking skills to work!

Landlords better get ready for higher water/sewer bills!

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I lived in a triple decker on the third floor years ago above a family on the first floor that had a cooking business illegally in their home. My apartment always smelled like cooked cabbage , the garbage cans were always overflowing and we had all sorts of pest issues. I ended up moving when we found mice in our wall and I just could not deal with it anymore. The thing is they were very clean people, well at least they knew enough to use lots of cleaning supplies. They were constantly mopping and hanging the mops on the fence outside and I could smell the cleaning liquids all over the building. Their portion of the hallway was always quite clean as well... so I often wonder if we still had lots of issues with this family being so clean I could only imagine if they were not. I would also be curious to see how people would handle renters, the rights of their landlords and the quality of life for other tenants. Besides sanitation it adds a strain on water resources and must also present a fire hazard.

Overall I am for opening up access to this sort of thing tho. There are so many immigrant groups in Boston with unique dishes and treats. I imagine some recipes may not be able to support a full restaurant but could do well on a small scale.

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...I should probably check with my landlord before I launch my boutique kimchi and fermented fish brand?

Jokes a side, the odor issue is absolutely one of the many problems that would need to be solved for home kitchens as this is something that both restaurants and legitimate food manufacturering facilities already face in the real world.

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..but as you sort of sense.... we’re on the slippery slope to regulating this out of existence before it begins.

Odors and smoke... Ask any condo or apartment complex with a restaurant on the first floor. My friend owned a restaurant in the first floor of a condo complex and he had to spend a fortune putting in exhaust to satisfy the condo board.

I lived in a triple decker on the third floor years ago above a family on the first floor that had a cooking business illegally in their home. My apartment always smelled like cooked cabbage , the garbage cans were always overflowing and we had all sorts of pest issues. I ended up moving when we found mice in our wall and I just could not deal with it anymore. The thing is they were very clean people, well at least they knew enough to use lots of cleaning supplies. They were constantly mopping and hanging the mops on the fence outside and I could smell the cleaning liquids all over the building. Their portion of the hallway was always quite clean as well... so I often wonder if we still had lots of issues with this family being so clean I could only imagine if they were not. I would also be curious to see how people would handle renters, the rights of their landlords and the quality of life for other tenants. Besides sanitation it adds a strain on water resources and must also present a fire hazard.

Overall I am for opening up access to this sort of thing tho. There are so many immigrant groups in Boston with unique dishes and treats. I imagine some recipes may not be able to support a full restaurant but could do well on a small scale.

There's another guy here who had a cabbage business above him in a triple decker too.

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It's a super popular business

I can't figure out how to delete the second one ? Adam feel free to get rid of my second one lol

It all sounds so progressive and encouraging for the small entrepeneur. The Sanitary Code exists for very good reasons. Zoning evolved to keep things in their proper place.

We've been paying a gig worker neighbor for years to bring her delicious cuisine over from time to time. More than anything, it's nice to have someone else but yourself cook, and especially in the pandemic. It's always fresh and reasonably priced. Yeah, sometimes we find cat fur, and sometimes it's not delivered on time because life got in the way, but the convenience and taste always outweigh the cons. I don't know if she needs to go through a formal permit process like this, but the benefit, as I see it, would be that then she can properly advertise and market herself outside of Facebook and Next Door neighborhood lists. If you don't have the capacity or interest to go further than this, then best to just continue to fly under the radar as many people do, and especially now in the pandemic as many restaurant workers have been laid off. I've eaten food off of the streets in too many third world countries to care about botulism. Dysentery definitely wasn't fun.

Homemade accommodations (ala Airbnb) bad... oh, because there is stranger danger in Airbnb ...

Julia Mejia? You mean the lady who wandered through a murder scene and laid hands on the victim while live streaming her "experience" on Face Book? ? Oh yes she has amazing judgement?

The "cottage food industry" sounds romantic, but what about waste removal, pest control, child labor, and neighbors. Residential neighborhoods are not Business Zones.

One can see countless labor violations, child labor in particular, as well as financial grey zone that will skirt taxes and encourage wage exploitation, Why do Councilors want to start sweatshops in the neighborhoods. How does a " food cottage" get liability insurance for food poisoning when they are working out of the kitchen sink in a three decker in J.P?
Will they carry workman's comp for when aunty slips carrying a bag of onions for a noce chutney on the third floor landing? And lets not even talk about Rats.

Commonwealth kitchens has an innovation lab and there are countless commercial kitchens available. Starting a business and running it equitably and safely is not a simple task, the Council shows a lqck of real world experince.

Only a BostonCity Councilor would think the food carts and trucks in NYC are anything but real businesses. You have to use a commercial kitchen or have an licensed food cart in New York City unless you are selling illicit churros in the subway (street food is known for at your own risk).
Supercities, for good or bad, are a contrast of first and third world elements, a perspective that no Bostonian would even dare articulate out loud. Boston isn't a Super City and the Councilors are proving themselves the embodiment of parochial again.

City could lower bar to entry of restaurant licensing, commercial kitchens, and work on filling all these empty, empty, empty, blocks commercial spaces that real estate speculators are just sitting on with viable food businesses, instead of the convoluted mess they are proposing. Dorchester 9th most divers neighborhood in USA and there should be a mom and pop shop of every nation on every block, like in other Cities. Why isn't there? We have drugs, guns,human trafficking and needles, but no falafel? Why?
Fine the vacancy commercial landlords, don't want no commercial cooking in my three decker.

This Is a bad idea. Restaurant cafes etc.. are held to a huge cleanliness standard ISD so busy now. Cant even imaging all the trash added to the streets and now what are taxes go up for trash. Will they have their own dumpsters? Half the people that will be doing won't abide by the rules. This is crazy! Our neighborhoods will be that already have rat problems will get worse.. This great city is going to be like a third-world country. I'm sure I'm offending somebody but oh well! Boston what happened???

One difference between making things for your friends and family vs the general public is dealing with allergies. Is your home kitchen set up to avoid cross-contamination? You may be making something with zero gluten in the ingredients in it but if you also make cookies you have to be really careful to keep the flour from contaminating your jelly, even in trace amounts. Same with other common allergens like peanuts. Someone cooking for known people may not be aware of the issue.