It’s rare for politicians on all sides to find common ground, but cookies help.
That much is clear in a debate that’s been cooking in Trenton for years. Since 2013, the New Jersey General Assembly has unanimously voted three times to end a state law that prohibits home bakers from selling their tasty treats for a profit. New Jersey is the last state in the country to have such a ban, which in the Garden State carries up to $1,000 in fines for anyone caught peddling homemade baked goods.
Yet despite this bipartisan support, one man continues to spoil the debate: State Sen. Joseph Vitale. As the chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, Sen. Vitale refuses to allow a vote on this commonsense bill, S1768. It’s time for foodies to unite against this rotten situation.
Current state law requires bakers to prepare their fare in industrial kitchens. At an average cost of more than $15,000 to build and upwards of $20 an hour to rent, that’s not an option for most would-be bakers seeking to break into the business or supplement their income. The result is fewer opportunities for entrepreneurs and those who want to work hard to get ahead (not to mention fewer choices for sweet-toothed customers).
Senate bill S1768 would eliminate these unnecessary barriers by allowing New Jerseyans to bake in their own kitchens and sell their goods at home, farmers markets, fairs, festivals, and other events. Such “cottage food laws,” as they are known, exist in 49 states today. Needless to say, there hasn’t been a foodborne epidemic from rogue bakers in any of these states.
Even still, the legislation includes provisions to address food-safety concerns. It requires home bakers to be certified in safe food handling and prohibits the sale of refrigerated goods. Bakers must also inform their customers with clearly visible placards that the goods were made in a kitchen not subject to regulation or inspection by the state Department of Health.
Sen. Vitale’s opposition is half-baked at best. He argues industrial kitchens, regularly inspected by the state, provide the only acceptable option for safe food preparation: “We can’t expect that in a home … A mold spore can enter your front door and eight seconds be in your bedroom. Things can happen that quickly.” While such ninja mold spores would indeed be scary to encounter, Sen. Vitale forgets that home-baked goods are already sold for charity—which is legal—or given away, which is also permitted. If home kitchens are safe for nonprofit bake sales, they’re safe enough for for-profit sales, too.
Sen. Vitale’s other objection is home bakers create unfair competition for established bake shops, which must comply with Health Department inspections and pay overhead costs like rent and insurance. Here again, the bill addresses those concerns by capping annual earnings for home bakers at $50,000. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with some good ole fashioned competition.
In reality, Sen. Vitale is unfairly helping established businesses over start-ups. Many home bakers aspire to one day open their own shops and depend upon their home businesses to establish their brands, build a customer base, and raise the funds necessary to achieve their dreams. A Small Business Administration study noted that, “Homes are, in effect, do-it-yourself business incubators, which collectively provide start-ups with an entry point into the business world.”
By blocking that entry point for bakers in New Jersey, Sen. Vitale robs the state of jobs and his constituents of exciting opportunities. In just the first year after California lifted similar restrictions on homemade food sales, bakers there started more than 1,200 new businesses. The state now boasts a thriving cottage food industry and Californians have access to fresh, local baked goods right in their communities.
What is more American than Grandma selling apple pie? Rather than continue this food fight, we hope Sen. Vitale recognizes the benefits to entrepreneurs, employees, and food-loving New Jerseyans of lifting this unnecessary ban and finally allowing this bill to become law.
Erica Jedynak is New Jersey state director of Americans for Prosperity