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Texas measure would allow sales of food made in home kitchens

06/16/2011 11:23 PM

06/16/2011 11:39 PM

Cassi Miles learned to bake while watching her great-grandmother in her Haltom City kitchen -- sometimes even helping roll out pie crusts or cut biscuit dough.

As she got older, she helped her mom bake cookies and brownies for bake sales.

But when Miles thought about turning her kitchen into a small business, she learned that it's illegal to bake food in a typical home kitchen and sell it for profit.

"All I could think about was how my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother had been unknowingly breaking the law for generations," said Miles, 30, of Fort Worth. "It was a huge shock, but it was also motivation to do my part to get the law changed."

Home bakers have been working for years to change state law so they can sell goods they baked in their own kitchens.

Now Senate Bill 81 -- which would allow just that -- is among more than 1,000 measures awaiting action by Gov. Rick Perry. He has until Sunday to approve or veto bills, or they automatically become law.

Kelley Masters, an Austin baker who spurred the effort, is counting the days until the deadline.

"I'm so excited and nervous and sick," said Masters, 40, who started a letter-writing campaign about the issue in 2007. "I think this is a good bill that makes sense.

"It increases personal freedom and gets government out of our lives."

The proposal

More than 20 states allow people to bake or cook in their home kitchens and sell those goods for profit. The rules vary by state, but some allow the baking without health department approval.

SB81 would add Texas to the list, with some conditions.

It would let food made in home kitchens be sold to consumers but not at farmers markets, grocery stores, restaurants, coffee shops or other businesses. Bakers would be limited to selling low-risk foods such as baked goods, candy, granola, dry spice mixes or canned jellies and jams. There would also be limits on how much bakers could make from their sales, and baked foods would have to be properly labeled.

Health officials wouldn't regulate the "home cottage food operations" -- which is a concern to some -- but they would keep a record of complaints filed so consumers could check on bakers.

In the beginning

After taking cake-decorating classes and deciding she might like to start a home business, Masters learned in 2005 that selling cakes made at home is illegal.

Seeing bakers in other states set up businesses, she told her husband that maybe they should start a petition to change the law. "He said, 'No, that will never work,'" Masters said.

And in 2009, a bill filed to legalize home cottage food businesses died.

This year, the proposal was added to SB81, which was authored by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and approved by both chambers.

"This isn't just about cakes and cookies; it's about people who have this talent and dreams -- and this may be the only hope they have," Masters said.

Local bakers

Miles, who bakes and decorates custom cakes, cookies and other pastries, dreams of someday working from home as a baker and cake decorator. "It will allow me to finally do what I love for a living, and that is a very powerful reality," she said.

For Michaela Jones, 42, of Mansfield, baking in her kitchen is a way to help people with allergies.

Jones has a wheat allergy and takes care when preparing foods for her twin daughters, who are allergic to wheat, eggs, milk, corn, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish and gelatin.

Because of the allergies, she doesn't want to cook in a commercial kitchen because "you never know what has been cooked there or how thorough the cleaning was."

Jones said that if SB81 becomes law, she could legally bake and sell foods to other Texans with multiple food allergies.

"Something as simple as a bake sale ... should not be illegal," she said.

Online: www.texascottagefoodlaw.com, www.governor.state.tx.us

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

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