New Jersey should follow Michigan, California and Texas in lifting its ban on home bakeries.
By ERICA JEDYNAK and HEATHER RUSSINKO
New Jersey politicians like to talk about finding a recipe for job creation and economic growth. If they’re serious, one place to start is to take the lid off a bill that’s been simmering in the legislature for years: a repeal of the ban on selling home-baked treats.
Right now, state law forbids the selling of homemade baked goods, on pain of a fine up to $1,000. Bakers can work legally only in industrial kitchens, which cost upward of $15,000. That’s a price tag that few culinary hopefuls, from grade-schoolers to grandmas, can afford.
One of the authors here, Heather Russinko, learned that firsthand. I am a single mom who works full time, but I never miss an occasion to bake for my son’s birthdays or school events. Eleven years ago, I had the idea of beginning a business on the side selling cakes. The plan was to bring in some extra money to pay the bills and start a small college fund for my son. But then I learned about the home-baking ban. I can’t afford the legally mandated kitchen renovation or to rent an industrial kitchen for $20 an hour. I struggle simply to pay monthly living expenses.
My story isn’t unique. The two of us have talked to hundreds of New Jerseyans who want to supplement their income by selling a batch of grandma’s famous cookies. People like Michelle Jones-Brown, a nurse and mother of four whose husband was laid off in 2014; Deborah Karsten Litter, who teaches cake decorating, but can’t sell her cakes; and Kathie Gee, who receives Social Security but needs additional income to pay for medical treatment.
What’s strange is that nearly every New Jersey lawmaker agrees that the ban should be repealed. The state General Assembly has twice—in 2013 and 2014—unanimously passed “cottage food laws” to lift the baking ban. The Senate, however, is another story. There the chief opponent is Sen. Joseph Vitale, the chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, who has let the repeal die. He told the Associated Press earlier this year that he appreciates home-bakers want to “make some extra money and do the right thing, it’s just there are public safety and public health concerns.”
But that argument doesn’t go very far. Homemade goods already can be sold to the public at charity events or given away for free. How would allowing them to be sold for a profit put public health at risk? “It’s the same kitchen. It’s the same ingredients. It’s the same food handling,” home baker Robin Hart told a radio news service in September. “This is a craft, like oil painting or knitting or whatever else people do with their talents. We just aren’t allowed to sell.”
Opponents also ignore the fact that home bakers working in small batches can be more responsive to customers’ health needs—food allergies, for instance. People whose bodies cannot tolerate any trace of gluten, nuts or dairy are not always served well by the commercial market.
We’re hopeful that this year Sen. Vitale will be open to compromise. Lawmakers in the General Assembly have addressed a number of his concerns in the bill they introduced this past April. Home-baking entrepreneurs would be required to complete food-safety training and would remain barred from selling goods that require refrigeration. Their annual earnings would be capped at $50,000 to prevent home-bakers from turning their kitchens into factories.
Other states have long since recognized that home-baking bans are past their sell-by date. Last year, the Minnesota legislature removed an arbitrary restriction limiting sales to $5,000 annually and restricting the locations of sales. California and Texas both lifted their home-baking bans several years ago, and by 2014 more than 1,000 home-based food businesses had been created in each state, according to the Institute for Justice.
New Jersey should free its home bakers to pursue similar success. The baking ban is simply one of the many senseless regulations that spoils opportunities for Garden State entrepreneurs. If lawmakers are serious about wanting to bring jobs and economic growth to New Jersey, this is a small but sweet place to start.
Ms. Jedynak is the New Jersey state director of Americans for Prosperity. Ms. Russinko lives in Franklin Borough, N.J.