Bake sales should follow basic food safety precautions

March 25, 2010

University Park, Pa. -- Pennsylvania food inspectors have taken some heat for enforcing state laws that limit church and fire hall bake sales, but the unpopular laws actually make good food safety sense, according to a food inspection expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. Now, with a potential state regulatory change on the horizon, there are new considerations for food safety concerning bake sale items, said Martin Bucknavage, extension food safety specialist in the Department of Food Science at Penn State.

Bucknavage noted that the Senate recently passed a measure (Pennsylvania Senate bill No. 828) that, if it becomes law, would revise existing state regulations to let church groups, scouts, sports teams and other nonprofits sell homemade baked goods along with foods made on-site in the groups' inspected kitchens.

"The bill would allow home-cooked, nonhazardous foods to be sold as part of a volunteer organization's fundraisers," he said. "Currently in Pennsylvania, this is not allowed -- volunteer groups cannot sell homemade goods along with foods that are made on-site in that organization's inspected kitchen." Even if Pennsylvania laws change, some institutions and organizations may still have stricter guidelines that prohibit bake sales of any type.

Bucknavage advises groups that they must be aware of food safety risks if they are going to sell homemade goods as part of organizational functions. Customers could make the assumption that the foods being served were prepared under sanitary conditions in the group's on-site kitchen. Selling homemade foods along with items prepared on-site gives the customer the perception that basic food safety practices were followed in preparation of those foods as well.

"But how do we know how these homemade foods were prepared and handled?" he asked. "In addition, if someone gets sick from food prepared in a less-than-sanitary home, does that volunteer organization assume liability?"

In general, Bucknavage pointed out, home-baked goods are considered low risk, and there have not been any recent cases of foodborne illness associated with them in Pennsylvania. "However, these foods can be carriers of disease if they are prepared or handled by someone who is infected with Salmonella, Norovirus, Hepatitis A, or Shigella," he said.

"Then there are those home-baked foods that are categorized as potentially hazardous foods, such as those high in moisture, those with cream filling or those with raw eggs, such as lemon meringue pie.

"That's why the bill will require that these volunteer functions allow only low-risk foods such as cookies, cakes and fruit pies," he added. "But my concern is, if someone shows up with a Boston cream pie, are they going to be turned away? What about a moist fruit cake or beef jerky?"

Bucknavage has heard the contention that people wouldn't sue their own church or fire hall if they got sick from eating a bake-sale item. "But remember," he said, "these events often are open to the public, and there may be many in attendance who have no affiliation to the organizations."

Bucknavage offers the following recommendations to volunteer organizations for handling the sale of home-baked food items if SB 828 becomes law:

-- Hand out a list of items that volunteers can make and bring in for sale. Include only low-risk items, such as cookies, cakes and fruit pies.

-- Mark all items with the name of the person who made them. "There is no reason we can't have traceability," he said. "Plus, many of us may want to know who made that pie before we buy it, so we can minimize our risk by choosing baked goods prepared by someone we know."

-- Hand out a list of safe food practices. "Better yet, require bake-sale contributors to take a safe food preparation and handling class, such Penn State's Cooking for Crowds workshop (," Bucknavage said.

-- Hold bake sales in an area away from where foods made on-site are sold. This will help let people know which items were made on-site and which were made in someone's home.


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Last Updated November 18, 2010