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Christina Bell, of Brentwood, applies powdered sugar to her chocolate cupcakes while at her home in Brentwood, Calif., on Monday, Feb. 10, 2014. Brentwood city leaders are changing the city's municipal code to permit cottage food operations as home-based businesses in residential neighborhoods. This will mirror recent state legislation that allows residents to prepare jams, jellies and baked goods for sale in their homes with the proper licensing and training. Bell makes custom cakes and cupcakes for customers who order from her Facebook page. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

BRENTWOOD -- Brentwood mom Christina Bell found her niche in creating wedding and party cakes at home through her popular home-based business, Confections by Bella.

Like other parents across the nation, Bell has been able to work from home and provide additional income during the recession through a passion or hobby. She produces a few wedding cakes each month and a couple of baby shower or birthday cakes each week.

Thanks to California's Homemade Food Act, Bell and other entrepreneurs across the state are able to prepare cottage food in their home kitchens and sell them legally. Cottage food operations include candy, baked goods, baking mixes, honey, herb blends, jams, popcorn, condiments, nuts, granola, fruit tamales and dried fruit and pasta.

"They allow a path to people who want to start a business," Bell said. "The recession changed the way legislators looked at it. It is a different level of customer service. You are getting artisan baked goods and unique products."

More than a year after the Homemade Food Act was enacted, cities and counties are amending their municipal codes or home occupation use permits to comply with this new state legislation and adopting reasonable standards and restrictions surrounding traffic, parking and noise control, according to Brentwood officials.

"It allows individuals to prepare and package potentially nonhazardous food items from their homes," Brentwood planner Debbie Hill said.

According to Hill, cottage food producers must complete a food processing training course and maintain sanitary conditions in their kitchens.

The Brentwood Planning Commission recently discussed the rezoning of the city's home occupation permit, which would limit the number of customers to one vehicle and two customers at any time, restrict direct sales to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and limit solid waste to the same amount as a typical home.

Neighborhood issues that arise from cottage food operations in the home are complaint-driven and difficult to enforce, Hill noted. Commissioner Joseph Weber said that it is something that needs to be monitored closely.

"It is allowing somebody to do what they do legally," Commissioner Bob Brockman said.

"It makes it so we can regulate it."

The Contra Costa County Environmental Health Department oversees these operations and grants licenses to them. Bell said that there are 1,200 cottage food producers statewide.

Brentwood resident Larry Stone said that this recent legislation is good for Brentwood and the city has two commercial kitchens that would offer more sanitary and controlled environments for food production.

"We are an agricultural community and we have lots of products here that should end up at the farmers market," he said.

Bell said that using a commercial kitchen would take away all of her profits because they typically cost $35 an hour and $75 monthly for liability insurance. She said there are no parking issues with her business because she delivers her products and that there have been no reported cases of food poisoning across California in the last year from these types of businesses.

"This law is really well-written," she said.

Oakley resident Melissa Mitchell makes cookies from her home under the business name Mey's Marvels.

She relies on social media to network with other cottage food operators for information and guidance on the new law.

"There are a lot of changes this year," Mitchell said. "I wish the county had better people to reach out to for information."

Reach Paula King at 925-779-7174 or pking@bayareanewsgroup.com.

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