Home Bakers Sue New Jersey Over Home-Baked Goods Ban

Arlington, Va.—New Jersey is the only state to completely ban the sale of cookies, cakes and muffins that were made in a home kitchen—and bakers caught selling even one homemade baked good face up to $1,000 in fines. But a new lawsuit filed today in state court by a group of home bakers, the New Jersey Home Bakers Association and the Institute for Justice (IJ) seeks to change that. Recently, IJ successfully challenged a similar ban in Wisconsin.

Heather Russinko, Elizabeth Cibotariu and Martha Rabello are three New Jersey bakers who want to sell their baked goods to earn a living. But before they can sell a single cookie, they need to be licensed as a “retail food establishment.” This requires renting or building a commercial-grade kitchen, paying multiple fees, and abiding by hundreds of pages of regulations just to sell foods even the government has deemed “not potentially hazardous.” Even worse, New Jersey allows home bakers to sell baked goods for charity, but the minute they sell the exact same goods to earn a living, they are breaking the law.

“All home bakers want is to be able to sell their baked goods at community events, farmers’ markets and directly to customers, something people already do in 49 other states,” explained IJ Attorney Erica Smith. “No one has ever gotten sick from eating a cookie.”

New Jersey’s ban has nothing to do with public safety and is simply about economic protectionism. For years, the Home Bakers Association has advocated lifting the ban, and bills to lift it have unanimously passed the New Jersey Assembly three times. But State Senator Joseph Vitale has consistently refused to give the bill a hearing, claiming he wants to protect commercial bakers from competition.

“Imagine how many people would be able to work if New Jersey’s ban on selling home-baked goods was lifted,” said Martha Rabello, one of the bakers. “Military spouses, people with disabilities, stay at home moms—all of these people would be able to supplement their income.”

A new study released today by IJ, Flour Power: How Cottage Food Entrepreneurs Are Using Their Home Kitchens to Become Their Own Bosses found that allowing the sale of home-baked goods can open up new opportunities for anyone who wants to start a small business at home.

“All across the country, thousands of Americans are making food at home to sell in their communities,” said Jennifer McDonald, an IJ research analyst and author of the report. “These small businesses provide their owners with flexibility, financial support and the opportunity to be creative.”

“Selling homemade cookies should not be a crime,” said IJ Senior Attorney Michael Bindas. “The New Jersey Constitution protects the right of entrepreneurs, including home bakers, to earn an honest living. When the cookie ban crumbles, they’ll be free to do so.”

The plaintiffs are also represented by Richard Chusid in Union, New Jersey, who is serving as local counsel.

This case is part of IJ’s National Food Freedom Initiative, which IJ launched in November 2013. IJ has won constitutional challenges to Wisconsin’s ban on selling home-baked goods and Minnesota’s restrictions on the right to sell home-baked and home-canned goods, among other cases.

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