I wanted to discuss something important today, and that is the Texas Baker's Bill. I am terrible at political stuff so I went to the lady who is pushing to get the bill passed. I asked Kelley Masters if she would guest blog for me about the bill, which she did and much more. Be sure to read this and pass it on to your friends. We need a lot of help to get this bill passed.
"I love to bake. In fact, I’ve loved it ever since I can remember. One of my favorite childhood memories is standing a dining room chair at the kitchen counter so I could “help” with dinner by stirring the cornbread batter. I was always the one who could be counted on to bring dessert to the family gatherings. When my husband’s cousin was getting married in 2005, she called me and asked me to make her groom’s cake. This threw me into a bit of a dither – I didn’t know how to decorate a cake, I only knew how to make them delicious! So I signed up for a series of cake decorating classes that I could complete before her wedding date.
Little did I know that taking a “practice” cake to church, or to a child’s birthday party, was the equivalent of handing out business cards. When people saw a decorated cake, it was almost as if they had found buried treasure: “You do cakes?! “ Soon my phone was ringing with orders, even though the last thing I had planned was to start a cake decorating business. But I enjoyed it, people seemed to like my cakes, and I could earn extra income as a stay-home mom. As the mother of a rambunctious 2-year-old boy, this was very important to me.
Because I’m the kind of person who likes to dot her i’s and cross her t’s, I figured that I’d better make this whole venture legal. So I spent a frustrating day on the phone with various State and County Health Departments, until I got the answer that I hadn’t even considered could be possible: It is not legal to sell home-prepared food of any kind, and therefore impossible to obtain a license for a home bakery.
I was crushed. It seemed like all my life I’d heard stories of women who earn extra money by decorating cakes or selling other types of baked items. I tried gamely to play by the State’s “rules”. I arranged for use of a local restaurant’s kitchen. It was so unclean that I would sometimes come home crying. I did not want to sell cakes that I made there. I even called the Health Department to inquire about their latest inspection reports, but found they scored very high. When I told the Health Department Rep that it was dirty, she responded, "of course it gets dirty, they're making food in there." I then moved to a rental commercial kitchen, but it also had some cleanliness issues, it was expensive (paid by the hour), and very inconvenient, because the only time I could go was after my son was asleep.
So I gave up my dream of owning a little cake business. But at the same time, as I became more active in the online cake decorating community, I learned that there ARE other states that have “cottage food laws” that allow people to legally sell food made at home. I was consumed with learning about their regulations. What quirk of logic dictated that a homemade cake in Ohio was perfectly safe for consumption, but a homemade cake in Texas was, in the words of my Health Department Rep, “contaminated”?
I started a letter-writing campaign to our Texas Representatives and Senators, and I began calling the regulators in other states. My critical question: “How many incidences or complaints of food-borne illness do you get from these home bakeries?” The answer was unanimous: Very few, or none at all. My phone calls confirmed what I already knew in my heart. Homemade cakes and cookies don’t make people sick. These foods are called non-potentially hazardous foods, which is a fancy term for saying that they have a low enough water content and high enough acid content that they don’t support the growth of dangerous bacteria. Think of it this way: you don’t keep a chocolate chip cookie in the refrigerator. It doesn’t spoil if you leave it on the counter. It might get hard and stale, but it won’t mold.
The current food law in Texas says that no “food establishment” can be operated from a residence. The law assumes that a home cannot be kept clean enough to serve safe food to the public. There is just one problem with this line of thinking: where did you eat today? Where did you eat yesterday? Did you serve your kids the same food? Did anybody have to rush to the hospital with food poisoning? According to the Public Hearing testimony of the Health Department’s own resource witness, 80% of food poisoning cases originate from commercial facilities. Why, then, the hysteria over homemade food?
Our letter-writing campaign started to have some impact, and in 2009, State Rep Dan Gattis introduced the Cottage Food Production Act, HB 3282. HB3282 attempted to give home bakers a way to start a small business safely in their home. It provided that the cottage food operator would register with the State, and obtain a safe food handling permit. That the only foods sold would be non-potentially hazardous. That the foods sold would be labeled “Home Produced”, and may only be sold directly to consumers; in other words, they would not be able to be re-sold at a grocery store or coffee shop. This put the power of choice in the consumer’s hands. Those who did not feel comfortable purchasing from a home baker would still be able to go to the licensed bakery of their choice. But those who do choose to purchase from a home baker could be assured of some level of training and responsibility.
HB3282 was voted unanimously out of committee, but in a session with over 5,000 bills filed and very few bills getting read, it eventually died on the calendar with hundreds of others when it was not read by the end of the session.
In a society that values freedom and entrepreneurship, a cottage food law is both necessary and moral. The idea that home-prepared food, properly prepared and labeled, is a danger to the public, is the antithesis of freedom and all that it stands for. The law would give Texas citizens a way to begin a safe, legal home business, with a minimum of startup costs. Homemakers would be able to contribute to the family income without having to put children in daycare. Retirees could supplement their limited incomes. And, as has happened in other states, some cottage food operators will be successful and find that demand exceeds the capacity of their home’s kitchens. They will move up to larger commercial operations, knowing that they have a proven, viable business.
We are preparing for the 2011 Legislative Session! The cottage food bill is again in the drafting stages in Austin. If you would like to help this bill get passed in 2011, please give “The Baker’s Bill” a “like” on Facebook! This page is the best way to stay in touch as the bill works its way through the system. The most important thing you can do is stay in touch with your State Representative’s Office. They are elected to serve the will of their constituents, but they don’t know what you want unless you tell them! Go to http ://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.usand enter your home address to find out who represents you in Austin. Be aware that all State Representatives are up for re-election in November, 2010, so you may get a new Rep in November. Call your State Rep and tell them that the cottage food bill is currently being drafted (reference HB3282 from the 2009 session). Tell them what the bill would mean to you, and ask them to keep an eye out for it when it is filed. After it is actually filed, there will be more calls to make, letters to write, and more you can do to help us pass this piece of legislation that would improve the lives of so many Texans who have the talent and desire to begin a legal home-based business.
Thanks, Missy, for inviting me to guest blog about something I’m so passionate about!
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Thank you Kelley, that is great! If anyone has any questions be sure to ask so I can pass them on to Kelley for answers. I would be interested in hearing what some of the laws in other states and countries are, so be sure to share!