Food Safety

Adopting a values-based approach to regulatory challenges in Oakland

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Oakland’s Josephine, a platform for home cooks, chose to work with regulators to design regulations better suited to the sharing economy. Unfortunately, they realized there were significant barriers in forcing a startup-world timeline onto larger legislative and culture change endeavors.

Challenge 

Josephine, a peer-economy platform that let home cooks sell prepared meals, ran afoul of health department regulators in the Bay Area and Washington State. Existing food codes in most states, including California and Washington, do not contemplate the private sale of food from home kitchens, which technology now makes possible.

Solution

In response to the reaction of health regulators, Josephine decided to work with state legislators to draft legislation legalizing homemade food sales by Josephine cooks and others. Meanwhile, it faced additional cease-and-desist orders and ultimately halted operations in the Bay Area and Washington State. Their experience with Josephine inspired team members to launch the C.O.O.K. Alliance, which advocates for legislation to permit the small-scale sale of meals from home kitchens.

Timeline

2014

  • April
    Josephine founders start working with cooks in the existing informal food economy in Oakland and Berkeley, providing business coaching and food safety education.

2015

  • January
    Josephine launches in Oakland to enable home cooks to sell meals from their own kitchens using a web platform. The company provides cooks with liability coverage, food safety training, and education about owning and managing a small business.
  • October
    City of Berkeley Environmental Health regulators begin to inquire about the legality of Josephine’s operations.
  • November
    Josephine meets with city health officials seeking a compromise solution that both could support, but is told that city health officials can only enforce, not modify or experiment with, existing laws.
    Josephine adopts a members-only business model as a way to address legal concerns and decides to pursue longer-term legislative options.

2016

  • February
    With help from a number of local law and food justice organizations, Josephine co-founders draft AB 2593, a state bill to decriminalize the small-scale sale of homemade meals.
  • April
    Josephine hosts Oakland community town halls on AB 2593, which receives significant media coverage.
    Alameda County regulators issue cease-and-desist orders to Josephine cooks, and the City of Berkeley and Alameda County send Josephine cease-and desist orders for “facilitation” and “aiding and abetting.”
    AB 2593 withdrawn from consideration after opposition from state regulators.
  • May 
    Josephine halts operations in the Bay Area, but receives a commitment from California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health (CCDEH) to work towards a regulatory pathway at the state level. Josephine spearheads a coalition of food and labor justice advocates who begin regular meetings with CCDEH to co-draft potential language for new policy.
  • June
    Josephine begins exploring possibilities for expansion to Seattle and Portland through conversations with local food and workforce organizations as well as government agencies.
  • August 
    Josephine has a soft launch in Seattle and Portland.

2017

  • January
    Portland’s Mayor Wheeler and the Seattle City Council signal their support for Josephine and urge exploration of new regulatory frameworks for the home kitchen sales model.
  • March
    Josephine works with Assemblymember Garcia to introduce AB 626, a California legislative bill to legalize the sale of homemade meals based on the language co-drafted with the California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health, which opposed previous legal changes. This bill creates a new home permit for food sales.
  • May
    AB 626 receives unanimous support from the California State Assembly’s Health Committee. The bill is held in the appropriations committee due to concerns from the tech industry (represented by the Internet Association) regarding third-party platform liability and data-sharing requirements.
  • June
    Josephine creates a city pilot playbook based on experiences in Portland and Seattle that calls for upfront collaboration with cities before platform launch.
  • December
    Josephine suspends operations in Washington State after the Department of Health delays authorizing a pilot program for homemade food sales and the Attorney General of Washington requests cooks’ personal information and issues a fine.

2018

  • January
    AB 626 passes out of the California Assembly with overwhelming bipartisan support.
  • February
    Josephine announces it will shut down its platform on March 30th due to dwindling financial resources and lack of investor patience after over two years of policy work and regulatory fines.
    Josephine founders launch the C.O.O.K. Alliance “Creating Opportunities, Opening Kitchens,” to continue advocating legislation that will enable home cooks to sell meals.
  • March
    AB 626 undergoes technical revisions and heads to the California Senate Health Committee.

 

Lessons Learned

Cities need room to experiment when it comes to regulations

State and local regulators need to identify the kinds of behavior they want to encourage or discourage and then provide options for piloting regulatory pathways. Third-party intermediaries and Internet of Things technology can help with pilot efforts by gathering data and conducting analytics.

Recalibrate Timelines Between Tech and Government

There is a fundamental disconnect between the timelines with which technology investors and policymakers are working. Startups pride themselves on the “move fast and break things” mentality, while legislators work to ensure they have complete information before permitting new tools and processes. When working to create cutting-edge tools for transforming markets, technology investors should be patient and flexible about timelines, growth, and revenue generation if they want to ensure long-term profitability and sustainability for businesses venturing into new territories. At the same time, city and state governments can use pilots and testing periods to collect and analyze information on new products and services while they continue to operate and iterate.

Support good actors

Good actors don’t disparage regulations that protect the public. Matt Jorgensen, former Josephine Co-Founder and Co-CEO, once noted that “Innovators can work around the system in regulatory grey areas [or] innovators can work within the system through policy change.” Unlike many startups, Josephine chose the latter so that it could inform the policy-making process. Working with companies like Josephine can give cities access to expertise, insights, data, and other resources it might not otherwise have at its disposal.

The sharing economy includes more than transportation and accommodations

The case of Josephine reveals that the sharing economy extends well beyond any one sector. Cities thus need to be prepared to address regulatory challenges as the sharing economy evolves.