I've been noodling around the Internet, and a surprising number of cities and counties -- from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois to Lewiston, Maine -- require nonprofit groups (and others) to get a permit before holding a bake sale.
Not all areas charge for the permit, and the majority still let you go ahead without one. But even the no-permit areas are paying increasing attention to the health issues surrounding selling food to the public, and expect bake sales to comply. And I wouldn't want to be the group that makes the paper because of a "permit bust" or a Salmonella outbreak.
Who knew that the humble cream pie was such a villain? I'm seeing it over and over again, on everyone's "DO NOT SELL!" list even for groups that have a permit. Apparently all the milk and eggs make a lovely recipe for not only custard, but for bacterial growth when left outside a refrigerator.
In the absence of any national rules, here's what I'd suggest if you're planning a bake sale:
- Call your local health or food service department to find out the permit and any other rules. Follow them.
- Take your own steps to avoid being the cause of health problems, such as reminding your bakers to be extra careful about cleanliness in the food prep process, wrapping or covering everything in plastic at the sale, and serving with tongs.
- Ask bakers to create labels with full and accurate lists of ingredients, in case buyers have allergies. (Peanuts, wheat, and dairy are common concerns.)
- Whatever you do, don't serve cream pies. Or pumpkin, or meringue.