Bedminster, NJ – In times of economic trouble people often turn to hobbies as way of earning extra income. Well, if your hobby happens to be baking and you live in a state that doesn’t have a Cottage Food Law enacted, such as New Jersey, then find something else. Without such legislation enacted baking in a residential kitchen and selling those goods is illegal. Most people don’t know that according to New Jersey’s retail food rules (Chapter 24 N.J.A.C. 8:24) it is illegal to sell any home-prepared baked goods to anyone, including at a Farmer’s Market. However, the code allows for not potentially hazardous home-prepared foods to be sold at a function such as a religious or charitable bake sale as long as it’s made known to all by the placement of a clearly visible placard stating such. Also, food prepared in the kitchen of a private home used for the purposes of a family child-care home or a bed and breakfast is also excluded and can be sold and/or served without violating the rules. To paraphrase, it’s only dangerous to sell home-made food if it’s your primary business from which you’re making a profit. After all, the law is in place to protect the public’s health.
In 2009, two members of the NJ Cake Decorators Club (www.meetup.com/njcakedecoratorsclub/), Grace DeStefano of Somerset County and Stephanie Haver of Hunterdon County rallied fellow members to contact state legislators. That effort resulted in the introduction of Senate Bill 2908 on June 15, 2009 (which eventually died in committee). Undeterred, efforts began again in January 2011. Reaching out to members of the cake club and to those of popular baking websites, particularly CakeCentral.com and pieceofcakedecorating.com, Ms. DeStefano, mostly solo this time, spearheaded another letter-writing campaign.
On February 22, 2011 Senator Christopher Bateman of District 16 introduced Senate Bill S 2734 (permits the sale of home-baked goods under certain circumstances). Soon thereafter it was co-sponsored by Senator Michael J. Doherty. The bill has been referred to the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. According to DeStefano, interest from some Assemblypersons is expected to lead to the introduction of a companion bill in the near future.
If eventually signed into law, New Jersey would join 16 other states with such laws on the books. Research by DeStefano and Kelley Masters (heading the Texas Baker’s Bill) has shown instances or complaints of food-borne illnesses resulting from or relating to residential kitchens in these states to be few to none.
The lack of Cottage Food Laws is the biggest hurdle and frustration facing cake decorating enthusiasts wanting to take their craft to the next level. Renting a commercial kitchen or an incubator kitchen, one that’s passed inspection and is licensed, is plausible to remedy the situation, but trying to find one is a daunting task as they are few and far between. It’s no wonder so many bakers sell their goods ‘under the radar’ all for the sake of recouping their costs or to bring in additional income. The sad truth is that most of these ‘underground’ home bakers want to be legal, obtain insurance, advertise and start a legitimate small business. The alternative is to buy, lease or rent property, but the costs involved are just too staggering for the average middle class family. To this end, home bakers have turned to state government to make a change.
“If this bill is passed and home bakers are required to take food safety courses in order to get licensed, it will actually increase public safety since there are already bakers selling cakes and such without any regulations whatsoever. At least once we’re all registered with a health agency, and paying for permits, licenses, etc. there should be even less of a chance of a food-borne illnesses and, if it ever did happen, there’s a way of tracking down where it’s origin”, said DeStefano. “This is a big thing right now – baking fancy cakes and all – with the proliferation of cake-related TV shows and all. The demand for them has skyrocketed and with the economy the way it is, those of us who’re able to create these cakes feel cheated that we’re not allowed to sell them. Right now Texas, Arizona, Washington and Illinois all have bills relating to Cottage Food Laws or operations. We all want the same thing – to be able to sell our cakes and cookies.”
Senate Bill S 2734 can be read in its entirety at www.njleg.state.nj.us . For up-to-the-minute news and updates regarding S 2734 by the NJ Home Bakers, please visit www.facebook.com/NJHomeBakersBill or follow it on Twitter @NJHomeBakerBill.