Monday, July 6, 2009

LIcensed Bakery? Or the "cake lady down the road?"

Many bridal publications frequently list “10 Questions You Should Ask Your Caterer/Baker”. Though this list varies from one magazine to another, one question that almost always appears is “Are you licensed by the Health Department”?

To some people, this would be unimportant since most folks know some nice lady who makes pretty wedding cakes in her home. So why should this be a concern?

First of all, in our state of Indiana it is not permitted for cakes or other foods to be sold from a home kitchen. Though there is an extremely limited exception for certain homemade items that are sold at farmer’s markets and roadside stands only, no one can operate any type of food service business from their home. Therefore, the nice lady who sells cakes out of her home is operating in violation of state law.

Even in states that do have some form of Cottage Food Law (which would allow the sale of homemade cakes); these laws generally do not allow the sale of perishable foods. So if a bride wanted a perishable filling like mousse in her cake, the home baker could not legally sell that.

So I find it even MORE amazing that reputable wedding magazines and websites will advise a bride to find a home baker for their cake, with no regard to the legality of what they are suggesting.

Buying a cake from a non-licensed source can limit your choice of reception sites. Many venues require copies of the baker’s health department permit and Certificate of Liability insurance before allowing that baker’s food products on the premises. The reason for this is liability. The reception venue can be sued if there is a problem with food, even though they did not provide the food. And they make no exception for cakes that come from mom, aunt, grandma or any other relative or friend of the family!

Also, if you don’t find out what your venue’s requirements are, you could wind up with no cake at all at your reception! True Story: A baker friend of mine told me of a bride who used a non-licensed baker. The home baker arrived at the reception site and was refused entry because she could not produce the required health department and insurance documentation. The end result was there was no wedding cake at the reception. The bride was devastated.

Bakers who have health department approved facilities operate to a higher level of sanitation then a home baker. Every home baker will insist that their kitchen is clean, but that assertion is based on what “their” opinion of “clean” is. Health department standards remove personal opinion from cleanliness and handling practices. While home kitchens are designed to be attractive, commercial kitchens are designed to be sanitary. I’ve observed that hobby bakers confuse “surface clean” with “health dept clean”. There’s a BIG difference.

I cannot even BEGIN to regale you with stories I've heard of pets in the kitchen during baking. Or worse, are those who assure us that their dog/cat doesn't enter the kitchen while baking. I've owned pets and I know their dander that floats in the air doesn't stop at my kitchen door if the oven is on.

I'm always amazed at how many cat owners just swear that they have the one cat in the whole world that doesnt' jump on the counters (with their nasty feet that have been roaming around in a litter box!). Oh sure .... I'm willing to chance THAT cake for my grandson's birthday!

I've had bakers tell of catching their cats licking cake pans and worse. More than once, a home/hobby baker has told how their pet (cat or dog) had taken a big lick off of a finished cake, so they just re-iced that part of the cake before delivering it to their customer.

Yeah .... I sure want THAT cake served at my daughter's wedding!

There is also an implied assurance of product quality from a commercial kitchen. For the legal baker, this is their business. They have significant overhead and they are dependent on satisfied customers and repeat business. The home (unlicensed) baker is essentially operating as a hobbyist and is not as reliant on satisfied customers. (There will be another blog coming soon on this aspect of this topic.)

When you book your reception site, you need to find out the policies regarding outside food/cakes and be sure your baker/caterer can comply with these policies. Health department requirements are in place for the protection of you and your guests. The licensed caterer/baker is committed to the protection of you and your guests as well - and they’ve put their money where their mouth is!

Debi Brim can be reached via email at

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