By: Amelia Nierenberg
FRANKLIN, N.J. — With just a little white chocolate and some sprinkles, Heather Russinko can make a wedding gown in under seven minutes. Give her five minutes more, and she can dress a groom, too. Three buttons, a bow tie, and a tuxedo swell over a round white chest.
Ms. Russinko uses dips and drips instead of pins and pleats to outfit the couple, who are cake pops, lollipop-size pastries made of batter and frosting. She has made beach-themed pops for a Sweet Sixteen party and lopsided, whimsical monsters with googly eyes for Halloween.
“If I could sell these at a Starbucks price, at $2.75 a piece? That’s his college,” said Ms. Russinko, 40, speaking of her 16-year-old son. “I want to be able to say, ‘O.K., Jared, you can go to college. Go ahead. You need money for books? Yeah, I have that right here for you.’”
But she lives in New Jersey, the only state where it remains illegal to sell homemade foods for profit, so she can only give away her creations or donate them to bake sales. If she tried to sell them, she could be fined up to $1,000. Every other state has dropped such restrictions.
“There’s this rogue law standing in my way and preventing me from earning an income,” said Ms. Russinko, one of three named plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state’s Department of Health. “It’s not like I am out there trying to sell drugs or do anything illegal. It’s a cookie. Or in my case, a cake pop.”
New Jersey’s sanitary code, like most states’, is derived from federal food laws based on a 1906 act; these codes have long excluded home kitchens from the definition of retail food establishments.
But one by one, states have eased those limits or enacted so-called cottage food laws, which allow the sale of homemade foods like breads, granola, dried herbs and jams. Many of these laws set a cap on annual gross sales and require that home kitchens pass safety inspections.
In just the last decade, 19 states and the District of Columbia have moved to allow sales of homemade foods, said Emily Broad Leib, the director of the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic and a lead author of an August 2018 report that documented a “dramatic increase in small-scale food production” nationwide.