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Group seeks to overturn Wisconsin ban on selling homemade food items

A hand stirring a bowl.
A hand stirring a bowl.(WBAY)
Updated: Jun. 20, 2021 at 5:47 PM CDT
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MANITOWOC COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - Mark and Paula Radl live in Manitowoc County and thought it would be worthwhile to sell roasted coffee beans.

“I bought a commercial roaster and just started getting familiar with that and using that unit,” Mark said.

Yet, the Radls called county officials and soon learned they couldn’t sell coffee made in their home. If they did, they could face consequences.

“Initially, we were like going to sell at farmers markets, direct to customers so that they know who it’s coming from, and friends and family and branch out from there. But we can’t even start anywhere,” Paula said.

With help from the Virigina-based Institute for Justice, the Radls joined other Wisconsinites in a lawsuit challenging that ban.

“Most homemade foods across the state of Wisconsin, you’re banned from selling it,” Institute for Justice lawyer Suranjan Sen said. “If you were to sell even a single bag of roast coffee beans, even a single a doughnut, even a single piece of homemade fudge to your neighbor, you’ll be risking up to six months in prison for that first offense.”

Sen added, “[County officials] told them, you know what, ‘this looks safe. This looks like your coffee is going to be real safe for people to put in their coffee machines and use. Nevertheless here in Wisconsin, you’re not allowed to sell your homemade foods.’”

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection sought to have a judge dismiss the lawsuit and leave the current regulations in place.

However, it cleared a major hurdle this week when a Lafayette County Circuit Court Judge on Wednesday ruled it can proceed.

Up until 2017, the Badger state was one of two states that also banned the sale of home baked items. New Jersey is the other state.

The Institute for Justice challenged Wisconsin’s policy and won allowing people to sell the cookies, cakes, pies, and muffins that’s made out of their kitchen as long as it doesn’t need to be refrigerated.

“We’re not saying that this is kind of food can’t be regulated at all. We’re not saying that it can’t be inspected at all. We’re just saying there needs to be some sort of reasonable way to let somebody sell their homemade foods,” Sen said.

Those who support the current policy have said it’s about food safety and preserving quality.

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