Don’t Mess With Texas’ Home Bakers and Canners!

With the support of home cooks throughout the Lone Star State, a bill expanding sales of cottage foods moves on to the State Senate.
An expanded cottage foods law in Texas, which would allow home bakers and other small-scale producers to sell their products at farmer's markets, has passed the House and is headed to the Senate. (Photo by: Dan Moore / Getty Images)
May 15, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Steve Holt is a regular contributor to TakePart. He writes about food for Edible Boston, Boston Magazine, The Boston Globe, and other publications.

She just wants to bake and sell her homemade cookies and breads at the local farmers market. Is that too much to ask?

It is, actually, because home baker Amy Butler lives in Texas, where doing so is currently against the law. But Butler, 25, of San Antonio, is crossing her dough-caked fingers that a landmark, bipartisan cottage foods bill will pass the State Senate and she can finally start building the home bakery business she first envisioned back in 2010.

“We were kind of in a rough spot, and I was thinking of ways that I could help bring in some extra income,” Butler remembers. “I started thinking, ‘What am I good at?’ I’m good at baking. I can make cookies, I can make bread—I’ve never had anyone complain. Why not?”

The reason why, she discovered, was that in Texas, it was illegal to sell food made at home. Then, in June 2011, came a ray of hope: State Senate Bill 81—which legalized the sale of non-hazardous baked goods, canned jams, jellies, and dry herb mixes from private residences—was signed into law. But the legislation, which restricted the point-of-sale of homemade foods to a person’s home, didn’t go far enough for Butler. She discovered that to be successful, she would need to take her breads and cookies to where her customers were.

“Nobody wants to go to an apartment complex to buy a $5 loaf of bread from some girl they don’t know,” she says. “I was still basically stuck.”

But along with the scent of freshly baked bread, change is in the air, Butler hopes. Last week, Texas’ House of Representatives passed a bill expanding the provisions of SB 81 to include the sale of additional no-risk foods such as candy, dry foods and granolas. And producers will now be allowed to sell outside the home: at farmers markets, farm stands and other community events. Thirty-one states have similar cottage food laws on the books, and experts say Texas’ law would be middle-of-the-road in terms of its provisions.

Opponents argue the lack of regulation of the cottage foods industry could put consumers at-risk to foodborne illness. But built into the law would be the requirement that producers attend a two-hour course on safe food handling, and supporters say there have been no reported illnesses in Texas since the passage of the 2011 cottage foods bill and no large-scale outbreaks in other states.

On Tuesday, the bill sailed through a hearing of the Texas Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, sending the bill to the full Senate for a vote before May 27, which is the end of the legislative session. From there, the bill would need to be signed into law by Governor Rick Perry, who has veto power, and would take effect September 1. Kelley Masters, a baker who co-filed the original bill in 2009, says the passage of HB 970 will assist food entrepreneurship in Texas.

“Being able to market their low-risk products at farmers markets and other community events would allow home producers to build a meaningful business,” Masters, owner of Home Sweet Home Bakery and organizer of the Texas Baker’s Bill grassroots movement, told The Austin Chronicle. “Some producers with high quality, unique products will use this opportunity as a springboard to a larger commercial operation, with a proven, successful product.”

Unless the law is changed, however, small-scale producers like Amy Butler—who holds down a full-time job during the day and has a three-year-old at home—will be relegated to their own kitchens.

“I won’t even be a fully fledged business once I’m able to get it out of my apartment; basically I will be preparing throughout the week, and setting up shop at a farmers market once a week,” she says. “I hope to grow from there.”

Does your state allow for the sale of homemade foods?