Absolutely everyone I know has -- at one time or another -- purchased or eaten something bought from a home baker. As far as I know, they are also still alive and healthy, despite consumption of these products.
In themselves, cakes and cookies ARE reasonably safe foods. Health hazards usually arise due to cross-contamination from other items -- mainly animal (pet) hairs and eggs or dairy products. The risk increases when items are prepared in home kitchens, are stored in the refrigerator next to or under chicken, meat, eggs, and other potentially hazardous foods, or on counters where other food has been prepared or where pets have access.
State Senator Rusty Glover (R-Mobile) has introduced a bill that would de-regulate home bakers, called the Alabama Cottage Food Bill SB236. This bill would exempt home bakers from regulation by their county health departments, making it easier for them to operate and sell their goods without any type of license or permit. It removes local government responsibility for food safety, and makes it easier for home bakers to operate entirely under the tax radar.
The safeguards are laughable, as if the STATE Department of Health would (or even could) police tens of thousands of home bakers to be sure they label their products. The bill proposes a maximum threshhold of $20,000 in annual revenue (bakers selling less than $20,000 annually would qualify to be un-regulated) but relies entirely on the individual bakers to report themselves. Without the requirement of a health permit, why bother with a business license? So they can pay taxes?
I may cook and bake at home for myself, my family, and my friends, but I am not a home baker. I am also not a corporation. I own a small bakery that is licensed and regulated by the State of Alabama, County of Tuscaloosa, City of Northport and the Tuscaloosa County Health Department. I pay taxes, license fees, and insurance premiums for liability and workers' compensation. On behalf of the city, county, and state where I do business, I also collect sales tax.
I provide a direct living for four employees, and indirectly pay for many local services though license fees and taxes. I also pay taxes on any profits after all this. Then, and only then, do I have personal income.
I peacefully co-exist with home bakers, and even sell cake boxes to some of them. While technically "illegal," most operate under the radar using their baking or decorating talents to eek out a living at home, or to supplement their income in order to pay their bills or have a little extra spending money.
My mantra has always been "let the buyer beware." Why? Because if someone actually GOT sick from eating something prepared by a home baker, they can complain. Surely the county Health Department would get involved and shut them down under those circumstances.
Tax and licensing (or lack thereof) is another very complicated story. Because home bakers do not pay taxes or licensing fees (or insurance), their overhead is less than mine. Significantly less. They can sell their products for less, taking some potential customers away from small legitimate bakeries. So we must work harder to attract customers who are willing to support legitimate and legal bakeries, knowing the money they pay for their cakes and cookies safeguards their food and pays local government. I'll admit I do get annoyed when I hear that local government employees (whose salaries I help pay) buy from illegal home bakers.
I believe this is an issue that should be decided by the public, or at least by well-informed representatives of the public. Currently, it is easier to sign a petition to de-regulate home bakers than it is to actually READ the proposed legislation. The websites and Facebook pages urging support of the bill are NOT urging you to read it. It took several searches for me to find a copy of the bill online.
Let the public beware. Deregulation is exactly that. It means no recourses. It will also discourage many legitimate and licensed bakers (licensed home bakers as well as very small bakeries) from continuing as licensed, tax-paying entities.
If you feel strongly about this issue -- either way -- please let your State Senator know as the bill has left committee and is pending RIGHT NOW. Here's a link to help you contact your senator by entering your zip code. Mine is Gerald Alen -- District 21.