With the enactment of H.B. 94 on March 23, 2021, Utah became just the second state in the union (behind California) to legalize Microenterprise Home Cooking Operations (MEHKO). More states ought to follow suit and allow home cooks to sell prepared meals from their residences. For the time being, here’s how to start a MEHKO in Utah.
What is a MEHKO?
MEHKO is an acronym for “Microenterprise Home Cooking Operation.” A MEHKO is a food facility that is run from a private residence. Typically, meals are prepared by a home cook and served as take-out or delivery. In some cases, MEHKOs can offer dine-in service as well.
Microkitchens as a fully-fledged business enterprise are relatively new. They have only been legal since September 18, 2018, when California passed a bill legalizing MEHKOs and establishing a complex permitting process.
The California MEHKO law (AB-626) legalizes home cooking operations but gives counties and cities the sole power to authorize MEHKOs. Without such authorization, MEHKOs will not be permitted and cannot operate legally.
AB-626 has largely been a failure, writes Baylen Linnekin, a food law expert and attorney. The county opt-in process has proven a major hurdle to statewide implementation of MEHKO permitting. Only one county in the entire state has chosen to allow MEHKOs.
Utah’s bill, H.B. 94, takes a different approach.
A would-be MEHKO in Utah must apply for a permit from their local health department. Instead of California’s county opt-in process, jurisdictions in Utah are automatically allowed to grant MEHKO permits. However, such permits cannot be more than 15% of total food service permits in larger municipalities and cannot be more than 70% in smaller ones.
H.B. 94 also includes expansive permit requirements, including inspections and health rules. Such requirements are explored below.
How to Start a MEHKO in Utah
While H.B. 94 is a big step in the right direction for those interested in microkitchens, MEHKO permit applicants will have quite a few hoops to jump through. MEHKOs are now legal in Utah, but with legality comes regulation and bureaucracy.
If you are looking to start your own home cooking enterprise, here are a few of the most important requirements to be aware of, though a complete list can be found in the text of the bill.
- Local health departments may charge a fee for a MEHKO permit that covers the costs of regulating the business.
- MEHKO permits are renewable on an annual basis.
- MEHKO permits are non-transferrable.
- Permits can be revoked if a MEHKO violates any of the (numerous) restrictions laid out in H.B. 94.
- As stated above, in large municipalities, MEHKO permits cannot exceed 15% of total food service permits, and they cannot exceed 70% in smaller jurisdictions.
MEHKOs should be ready for health inspections. The local health department can inspect a MEHKO a week before it is scheduled to open, randomly during the operating hours of the kitchen, and at any time with advance notice to the MEHKO or with a valid reason to believe the kitchen is the site of an outbreak of contamination or illness.
Onsite Food Consumption
A Utah MEHKO cannot offer onsite consumption to customers. Food can only be delivered or picked up. Additionally, any food deliveries must be made within a food-safe window of time.
MEHKOs in Utah face a bevy of workplace hygiene requirements, including:
- MEHKOs must notify customers that they may not meet the standards on traditional restaurants.
- There must be a hand washing station located in food preparation and dispensing areas.
- Dishes must be sanitized between uses. Food must be maintained and safe temperature levels.
- Food contact surfaces must be smooth and sanitized between uses.
- Linens used in a MEHKO must be laundered separately from household laundry.
- Animals must be kept out of food preparation areas.
What Food Can MEHKOs in Utah Not Sell?
MEHKOs in Utah cannot sell food that involve processes that require a HACCP plan, raw milk, raw milk products, wild mushrooms, or molluscan shellfish.
- MEHKOs are allowed to cook with open-air barbecues.
- Food preparation areas must be well-lit.
- Normal household items not usually found in a kitchen must be stored outside of food preparation areas.
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