New Jersey Home Bakers Score First-round Win in Challenge of Home-Baking Law

Andrew Wimer
Andrew Wimer · April 30, 2018

Trenton, N.J.—New Jersey is the only state to ban the sale of home baked goods—but that may be about to change. On Friday, Judge Douglas Hurd, of the Superior Court of Mercer County, denied a request of New Jersey’s Health Department to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban.  The lawsuit was brought by several home bakers who are asking the court to allow homemade goods—like cookies, cakes, and muffins—to be sold directly to consumers. Because of the judge’s ruling, the lawsuit will be allowed to continue.

Under New Jersey’s ban, it is illegal to sell any homemade foods for profit. Instead, before a person can sell even one cookie, she needs to spend thousands of dollars acquiring a commercial grade kitchen, get a retail food establishment license, undergo inspections, and abide by hundreds of pages of regulations designed for large, commercial bakeries. If someone sells even one muffin from their home kitchen, she can be punished by up to $1,000 in fines. The State has an exception to the ban for homemade goods sold to support charitable organizations, like church bake sales.

The home bakers brought the lawsuit after their attempts to repeal the ban in the Legislature failed. Bills to repeal the ban have bipartisan support and have passed the Assembly unanimously on three separate occasions. But in the Senate, these bills have never even been allowed a vote. That is because Senator Joseph Vitale opposes the bills and refuses to allow them out of his committee. Although Senator Vitale has made vague safety claims about homemade goods, he has repeatedly told the press that he wants to protect commercial bakers from competition.

“New Jersey’s home-baked goods ban has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with politics and protectionism,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Erica Smith, who represents the bakers in the lawsuit. “This ban is hurting moms and hobbyists who simply want to use their talents to support their families.”

“People want to buy my cookies and cakes, and that should be their choice, not the government’s,” said Liz Cibotariu, one of the home bakers in the lawsuit who works as an Army helicopter technician in the National Guard and also served in the Iraq War. “I left Romania when it was still a communist country and proudly served in the military because I value freedom. It is time New Jersey got a lot more free.”

More than a dozen additional home bakers attended the hearing to show their support for the suit. Overturning the ban would allow many New Jerseyans to work from home and earn modest amounts of money to support themselves.

Martha Rabello is another home baker in the lawsuit. After the hearing, she said “I’m very happy to be one step closer to sharing my gift for baking once again. It is time for the Garden state to catch up with the rest of the country.”

The next step is for the parties to conduct discovery, move for summary judgment, and ask the court to decide whether New Jersey’s ban unconstitutionally limits home bakers freedom while protecting commercial bakers from competition.

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.