MD Home Baking Laws with Mulberry Treats

On The DMV Wedding Pros Podcast this week, I got to chat with Kim from Mulberry Treats.

On this episode, we talk about the home baking laws in Maryland - where they've been, where they're going - and how Kim has been a large part of that. We also talk about finding a cookie decorator, what kind of expectations there are when ordering in bulk, and giving back through charity work.

Thank you so much for joining us, Kim! Tell us a little bit more about yourself.

Thanks, Abigail. I'm a stay at home mom, and I've been decorating cookies since 2014. I got started decorating for my kids' birthday parties, and once you start you get cookie goggles and everything you see you want to turn into cookies, so it transitioned from there. I started out decorating cookies when we lived in California, and we moved to Maryland in 2015. I thought, "Oh, when my youngest goes to Kindergarten, I'll start selling cookies." I realized quickly after we moved here that Maryland had some of the strictest baking laws in the country, so it wasn't going to be a possibility.

When I moved here, the only place that cookie decorators could sell legally was at farmer's markets, which didn't work for me as a stay at home mom with young kids, to spend my weekends at the farmer's market.

Today we're going to talk about those home baking laws. I'm excited to have you because I know nothing about this subject, so I'm leaving the knowledge up to you! We're going to talk about home baking laws, what's new and what's next, as well as just some general cookie decorating things, so where do you want to start?

Disclaimer - I am not a lawyer, so please do not take this as legal advice as far as home baking laws go, but I'll go over a lot of the changes we've had over the past few years. You'll also hear them referred to as "cottage food laws," which is the same thing.

The laws here are some of the strictest in the country. At the time I moved here, if my neighbor wanted me to decorate some birthday cookies for their child, I would have to have a booth at a farmer's market, meet them there, and conduct the transaction there. There's a non-profit law firm called The Institute For Justice who have been working around the country to help improve home baking laws, like in Kentucky, New Jersey, and Michigan. A lot of changes have happened over the past few years to get more lenient cottage food laws. I had come across their name, and had some cookie friends fighting in KY to get the food laws changes, so I sent an email and said, "I'm in MD, I would love to help get the laws changed."

They replied rather quickly and said, "Hey, guess what? We just found a co-sponsor for a bill that we want to pass through." This was in 2018. I went to the public hearings that we had on it, I emailed all of my representatives here in Maryland, my state delegates and state senator, and tried to put the word out to as many cookie decorators as I could. That was a really interesting process to witness. I got to go to all the public hearings and hear home bakers testify about what this would mean to them personally. It was a really great experience. If you've never seen how a bill becomes a law, it's really fascinating.

It was well received to all the committees, and I think all the committee members decided to co-sign the bill. It's a bipartisan issue, everyone can get onboard with this. What the law in 2018 changed was allowing home bakers to sell goods from home, not just from a farmer's market. So it allowed us to sell from home, farmer's markets, public events, and by mail within in the state of Maryland. There's a lot more things that we wanted to get at that time, but it was baby steps. Lifting that farmer's market restriction was huge.

Over the past couple years at least on the cookies decorating front, you've seen lots of cookie decorators pop up. What I think is great in the changes of these home baking laws is that there's a new market for wedding professionals and couples to tap into. If you wanted special custom decorated cookies, you can get that now! It's exciting because cookies can really provide a special detail. It's a nice individual gift that you don't have to share, so people really like cookies.

That's so interesting. Like I said, I had no idea that that was even.... that there were so many hoops to jump through. But it's so cool that you were a part of that process, and got to see it become what it is now. Are there other laws or restrictions that you see changing in the future?

So in October of 2019 we got another law passed where home bakers can now sell in food retail stores and in co-ops. They have to be food retail, so you couldn't sell to caterers, but it's still another baby step. Some of the things that a lot of home bakers would love to see changed is some of the restrictions on the food types. For now, frostings made with butter or fruit fillings are not allowed under the home baking laws. They have to be done in a commercial kitchen. You can submit some of your buttercream icings and stuff to get tested, but generally they have to be done in a commercial kitchen.

Another issue we want to see changed is for the labeling we're currently required to provide our home address. You have to put a lot of information on there, including your home address, which is concerning for a few reasons. One, just your personal security. There was a case out of Ohio where a cookie pickup order was used as a ruse to gain entrance into the cookie decorator's home, so that really sent ripples of fear through the cookie decorating community.

We have HB1017 that was thwarted by Covid in its last session, but that will hopefully get passed and allow for an alternate ID to be put on your home baked goods. You would register with the Department of Health and they would know your home address, but on your label you would just have to put this ID number so if there was ever a problem or concern then your customers would have a way to lodge a complaint.

We have a lot of people in this area in particular with government jobs and security clearances, plus law enforcement, domestic violence victims who don't want their addresses publicized like that. And some people don't care, but there are a lot of people who do have that concern.

For sure. That's something I never would have thought of. That's so wild to me that that information has to be out there.

Yeah, and I get it from a public health standpoint. Like if I were to buy something, I would want to have some means to remedy a situation if something spoiled or someone got sick. But also, you know, there's not really any other industry I can think of that forces you to put your home address on your goods. Hopefully the next s