Lawsuit cooked up over New Jersey's home baked goods ban

Martha Rabello bakes coffee cookies in the kitchen of Fanwood Presbyterian Church, where she rents space to bake her goods to sell, as a state law prohibits her from baking commercial goods in her home. The New Jersey Home Bakers Association filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the state’s Health Department over rules that require people to have a license before they can sell their treats.

julio cortez / Associated Press

Home bakers in New Jersey say their brownies and muffins are perfectly safe and they should be able to sell them, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday seeking to strike down the country’s only ban on the sale of homemade baked goods.

The New Jersey Home Bakers Association sued the state’s health department over rules that require people to have a license before they can sell their home-baked treats.

“Right now, people need every chance they can get to make an honest living,” said plaintiff Martha Rabello, a 38-year-old mother of two who said she likes to make bite-sized cookies that pair with coffee. “We want to be on the right side of the law.”

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A spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Health said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

New Jersey became the only state in the country to bar the sale of homemade baked goods after a similar rule in Wisconsin was invalidated in June.

The nearly decade-long push to overturn the regulation in New Jersey has gained supporters who say people should be able to sell baked goods without going through the expensive and time-consuming effort of opening a storefront.

A legislative proposal has been blocked by a state senator who says that home kitchens need to be regulated like any other bakery if people are going to cash in on their cookies.

“I want to strike a balance here,” said Sen. Joseph Vitale, a Democrat who chairs a state committee on health and has refused to bring a bill up for a vote.

The bakers also note in their lawsuit that the state allows them to sell the same treats at charity events.

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Izaguirre reported from Philadelphia.

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