There are too many cooks — and state regulators — in New Jersey kitchens.
For years, Garden State home bakers have sifted through government red tape to sell their delectable goods to neighbors and others within their communities. Yet state lawmakers and bureaucrats keep adding to the regulatory burden — and it’s created a recipe for disaster for would-be entrepreneurs.
New Jersey is one of only two states that forbid private citizens from selling home-baked treats — doing so can cost up to $1,000 in fines. Only goods that are made in an industrial kitchen are eligible to sell. Not many people have the money — let alone the extra space — to put an industrial-grade kitchen in their home, which can cost as much as $100,000.
One of the authors of this article, Christine Myers, has witnessed firsthand the hurdles this law places in people’s way. I work with many entrepreneurs who want to turn their passion into their vocation. The only option for those who can’t afford thousands of dollars to renovate is to rent an industrial kitchen for roughly $20-45 an hour. That’s no option at all for most home bakers.
As aspiring entrepreneurs, they’re already fighting hard enough just to pay for the ingredients, packaging and labeling, materials and logistics. Fighting state regulations is not an ingredient for success — for entrepreneurs or the New Jersey economy, which, quite frankly, needs all the help it can get.
State lawmakers have recently been attempting to roll back such unnecessary restrictions. For the last seven years, they’ve focused on what’s known as a “cottage food law,” which allows people to bake and prepare certain foods in their home kitchens and sell them on a small scale (think farmers’ markets and other community events). The Assembly has passed this legislation unanimously three times now, most recently in December.
Yet despite such broad support — and just plain commonsense — the bill has yet to even receive a vote in the state Senate. This owes to a single reason: State Sen. Joseph Vitale.
As the chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, Sen. Vitale controls whether this legislation receives a vote in the upper chamber — and so far he has refused. He argues that home bakers represent a threat to public health and safety, and that allowing them to operate will create unfair competition to already-established businesses.
While public safety should always be taken into consideration, Sen. Vitale’s logic is half-baked at best in this case. More than 40 states have passed some kind of cottage food law and have had no resulting health issues. And across the Garden State, home-baked goods are already sold to the public at charity events and school bake sales. Merely slapping a price tag on a bag of goodies won’t somehow make it more dangerous for consumption.
His argument that home bakers will rival brick and mortar stores is similarly flawed. We’re talking about small-scale operations — nothing remotely close to taking on a business with established infrastructure, trained staff, existing supply chains and a large customer base. And even if they were moving in too quickly on the cookie market, there’s nothing wrong with some healthy — and tasty — competition.
All of this ignores that the cottage food law stuck in Sen. Vitale’s committee addresses each of his concerns. On the public-safety front, it requires home-bakers to complete food-safety training and keeps in place a ban on selling items that require refrigeration. The bill also places a gross-annual earnings cap of $50,000 on home-bakers which limits their ability to grow and expand.
Other states have lifted their baking restrictions in recent years and have seen positive economic results. By 2014, California and Texas saw more than 1,000 home-based food businesses started. New Jersey could see similar results if lawmakers sweetened our economic recipe.
Our regulatory environment should foster opportunity for people to invest in themselves and the economy. Sen. Vitale should stop with the food fight and allow a vote on the cottage food law. While no economic panacea, it would help reverse New Jersey’s ignoble distinction as the “most-moved-from” state in the country for the fifth year in a row.
Photo by athriftymrs.com
Christine Myers is a Morris County Freeholder and Specialty Food Entrepreneur.
Erica Jedynak is the New Jersey state director of Americans for Prosperity.