MILWAUKEE (AP) — Wisconsin lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow home cooks to sell small amounts of cookies, muffins and bread at farmers markets and other locations without getting a commercial license.
The bill scheduled for a hearing Wednesday is intended to help people like Lisa Kivirist, who co-owns a bed and breakfast in Browntown, near the Illinois border, and has written several books on farming and cooking with her husband, John Ivanko. Kivirist estimates she loses about $1,200 a year because she can't sell treats like her winter squash spice muffins to guests at Inn Seredipity.
"Right now, you can come and I can serve you muffins legally, and you can eat them, but you can't take them home with you," she said.
The bill sponsored by Reps. Ed Brooks, R-Reedsburg, and Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, would allow people to sell homemade baked goods without getting a food processing plant license if they earned less than $10,000 per year from the endeavor. It applies only to "nonhazardous" foods, such as bread, cookies and muffins that don't need to be refrigerated.
The bill amends a 2010 law that allowed people to sell homemade canned goods, such as pickles, at farmers markets and community events. Along with adding baked goods to the cottage food law, the bill would permit face-to-face sales in more spots. Door-to-door sales would still be banned.
Dela Ends, who owns Scotch Hill Farm in Brodhead, said the 2010 law let her sell pickles, salsas and jams at a winter farmers market and to people who were already buying vegetables from the farm.
"It doesn't add a lot of income, maybe $1,000 or so, but every little bit is helpful in the winter," Ends said. If the so-called cookie bill passes, Ends said she and her husband could make flour from some of the grain they grow and sell bread as well.
"In tough economies, for rural people to make extra money, it makes all the difference," said Scott Karel, government relations associate for the Wisconsin Farmers Union, which has been the bill's main advocate. About 30 states have cottage food laws, and most allow the sale of baked goods, he said.
The Tavern League of Wisconsin is supporting the bill because it would raise the income limit for homemade food sales from $5,000 to $10,000. Many bar owners in rural areas, particularly in northern Wisconsin, have gardens and sell their own pickles or jams for extra income, lobbyist Scott Stenger said.
The Wisconsin Grocers Association and Midwest Food Processors Association, Inc. have taken neutral positions on the bill, citing concerns about food safety. The presidents of the two groups said some of their concerns have been eased by labeling requirements.
The bill requires foods to be labeled as being made in a private home, carry warnings about potential allergens, such as nuts and wheat, and provide contact information for the cook.
"If there's something wrong, you want to find out where that happened," said Nick George, president of the Midwest Food Processors Association, Inc.
Shannon Heupel, of Luxemburg, Wis., has been decorating cookies for family and friends for more than a decade and regularly has people send messages to her Facebook page asking if they can buy some. She sees the baked goods bill as providing a stepping stone for her to open her own business.
"Eventually, I would like to have a licensed kitchen or a storefront," Heupel said. "That's a long-term goal, but I don't want to invest all that time and financial resources into that until I know it would be successful. The cottage food law would allow me to get a feel on how it would be to run that business."
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