No justice, no pies? NJ bakers rally for right to sell home-baked pastries
TRENTON — Cake and cookie bakers hoping to start selling pastries from their home kitchens say a state law prohibiting them from doing that is unfair and should be changed.
New Jersey is one of two states, along with Wisconsin, to prevent home-bake businesses. Bakers descended on the Statehouse Thursday, filling tables with sweets to grab the attention of lawmakers and passersby to press for the Legislature to finally change the law.
Robin Hart, of North Brunswick, and member of the New Jersey Home Bakers Association, said people can give away what they bake or sell it for a nonprofit organization without a problem. So why the prohibition on sales?
“It’s the same kitchen. It’s the same ingredients. It’s the same food handling. And there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to do that,” Hart said. “This is a craft, like oil painting or knitting or whatever else people do with their talents. We just aren’t allowed to sell them.”
Heather Russinko, of Franklin Borough, said she started making cake pops when her son was young. Local parents started asking her to make them for their events – and she actually lost money doing so, since she couldn’t sell them.
“This bill would really help my family,” Russinko said. “I am a single mom. I’m living paycheck to paycheck, sometimes even a paycheck behind. I have college tuition coming up in about five years for my kid, and I don’t even know how I’m going to pay for that.”
The proposal has been kicking around the Legislature since 2009. The full Assembly passed it twice, by votes of 78-0 in 2013 and 2014, but the proposal can’t get through the Senate health committee, where its chairman, Sen. Joseph Vitale, is opposed.
Vitale, D-Middlesex, cites a variety of concerns, the most pressing of which appears to be the lack of inspections of home kitchens by boards of health. He said public health officials are opposed as well.
“It doesn’t account for inspections of the facility, much like we would expect in a bakery on Main Street or a restaurant – that there’s proper food handling, that there are the appropriate preparation and storage areas, that they meet certain standards,” Vitale said.
“I don’t believe in the long run that it’s a safe way to produce these products and then distribute them to the general public. And that’s why it is that people make investments in buying a bakery, whether it be your life savings or whatever it is. They’re required to, under law, have the right kind of facility,” he said.
Under the current version of the proposal, people would be able to sell $50,000 worth of baked goods a year made in their home kitchen. It would be limited to things such as cakes, cookies and cupcakes that don’t require refrigeration. The bill prohibits sales to commercial establishments or online.
Bakers would have to have a food handler’s certificate. Boards of health could inspect if they have reasonable belief or a credible report that the baked goods or kitchens present an immediate and serious threat to human life or health. Also, there would be a sign at the point of sale explaining the home wasn’t inspected by the board of health.
Vitale doesn't think that goes far enough in protecting consumers.
“If someone’s making $50,000 worth of home baked goods in a given year, and the bakery up the street is doing the same thing, they’re inspected, the bakery is. They’re required to have a food handler’s license," Vitale said. "There are standards they have to meet, whereas the person in the home does not have those same requirements and responsibilities. And there’s a reason for having those responsibilities and requirements.”
Vitale said people who want a small baking businesses without opening a full-fledged bakery do so now by renting kitchens at places such as Elks lodges and VFW halls for a small fee. Those places are inspected, he said.
“Now we can’t expect that in a home, particularly when you have, potentially, sick children, pets, airborne mold spores and airborne dog and cat hair and all these other things that you don’t see but are in the air. A mold spore can enter your front door and eight seconds be in your bedroom. Things can happen that quickly,” Vitale said.
Advocates for allowing home-bake sales plan to ask Senate President Stephen Sweeney to switch the proposal to a different committee, said Erica Jedynak, the New Jersey state director for Americans for Prosperity.
“This is a no-brainer for New Jerseyans and legislators. These women and men want to start a small business. It shouldn’t be a threat that there’s competition,” Jedynak said.
“Home baking is a way for baker entrepreneurs to start small, right away, without having to spend tens of thousands of dollars on professional equipment and commercial kitchen space,” said Brooke Fallon, activism manager for the Institute for Justice. “If you have an oven and a recipe, you should be able to start a business, as long as you’re following the rules and doing it legally.”
“I am actually a New Jersey Guardsman, and I fight for our state’s freedoms and our economic liberties and all the freedoms that go along with living in the United States,” said Elizabeth Cibotariu, of Jackson. “And I believe that this bill is nothing short of a right and a freedom that we should absolutely have.”
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