Mary's Cakes and Pastries is a licensed food service establishment. In exchange for permission to legally sell our products to the public, we abide by state and local laws, pay a variety of license and permitting fees, collect taxes, and incur a plethora of other costs. If you look on the wall by the front door, you'll see our permits and licenses as well as the latest inspection report from the Alabama Department of Public Health.
To the best of my knowledge there are al least eight other licensed bakeries in Tuscaloosa County (not counting in-store bakeries).
But I'm sure EVERYONE knows SOMEONE who makes and sells cakes or cookies out of their home. Home bakers. I know several.
I have no problem with people (many very talented) who bake from home for their family and friends, friends of family and friends, co-workers and friends of co-workers.
My problem starts when they pretend to be legal businesses, advertise to the general public on the Internet or through flyers, or print *business* cards. Because most home bakers are NOT legal businesses. I was recently asked to join a Facebook group of local home bakers. This group has 155 members! At first I thought it was a place to post photos of cakes, but it became clear that these home bakers were actively soliciting business from the public. I quit the group when I realized it supported illegal activity.
There are certain laws and regulations that govern businesses, including those in the baking industry. These laws and regulations are set by individual states and cover the types of items that can be sold, where vendors can sell, how products must be packaged and labeled, and much more. Some home bakers believe they are exempt from the law.
Alabama allows the sale of foods that are not potentially hazardous (such as cakes and cookies), prepared in unlicensed home kitchens, WITH CERTAIN RESTRICTIONS.
The State Board of Health approved the following amendment to Chapter 420-3-22-.01 of the Rules of Food Establishment Sanitation to clarify what is exempted from regulation as a food establishment.
Chapter 420-3-22-.01 now excludes a kitchen in a private home from the definition of food establishment if only food that is not potentially hazardous (time or temperature control required for safety) is prepared for sale or service at a function such as a charitable, religious, civic, or not-for- profit organization's food sale, or at a state sanctioned farmers markets, and if the consumer is informed by a clearly visible label, tag, or placard at the sales or service location that the food is prepared in a kitchen that is not inspected by a regulatory agency.
This effectively excludes farmers markets and not-for-profit organizations in Alabama from the regulatory requirements of the health department regarding non-potentially hazardous home processed foods.
In other words, certain home processed foods, such as breads, rolls, cookies, cakes, brownies, fudge, and double-crust fruit pies; traditional fruit jams, jellies, marmalades and relishes; candy; spices or herbs; snack items such as popcorn, caramel corn and peanut brittle, may be sold at farmers markets and "bake sales" with appropriate labeling.
Individuals ARE NOT PERMITTED to sell home baked items to the public in any other way.
To me, the issue is a level playing field.
- First, bakers with health department approved facilities operate to a higher level of sanitation than home bakers.
Every home baker will insist their kitchen is clean, but health department standards are different than personal opinions about cleanliness and safe food handling practices.
Does your home baker have a three-compartment sink? Do they sanitize their spatulas, piping bags and tips? Do they tie their hair back? Do they wash their hands in the same sink that they wash their decorating tools?
Does your home baker have a pet? Right, THEIR dog/cat never enters the kitchen while baking. Or sheds. Or licks anything. And, they have the one cat in the entire world that doesn't jump on the counters.
- Second, legal bakers risk more than their reputation. A commercial kitchen is a major financial investment.
The home baker is essentially operating as a hobbyist with SIGNIFICANTLY less financial investment. The legal, licensed baker has passed Food Safety classes, knows how to handle perishable icings and fillings and how to properly sanitize decorating tools. We are inspected by the health department frequently, obtain the proper licenses and insurance, and pay a small fortune for the equipment required to operate a commercial kitchen.
Then we risk this entire investment on the decorating and baking skills of our staff every time a cake goes out the door.
I've seen many sorry-looking cakes from home bakers (and some from licensed bakers, too). The fondant was shiny, lumpy or streaked, or the buttercream was sloppy. The piping was wobbly. The entire cake sagged or leaned.
Not all home bakers do shoddy work. I know many who bake for a hobby and they do a beautiful job! And a bakery cake is not always perfect. However, a legal licensed baker has much more at stake to get it right every time, financially, than the lady-down-the-road who makes cakes “under the radar."
- Third, I pay taxes. When you buy something from a legal baker, part of your money goes back to the community in the form of services financed by your tax dollars.
So what are you willing to risk to break the law? After all, in the end, it's your money, your health, your community, and your peace of mind.