ELIZABETH — A group of stay-at-home mothers are suing the state Health Department in a challenge to a law prohibiting home-baked goods from being sold to the public.

The lawsuit by the New Jersey Home Bakers Association and three of its members argues that the law is discriminatory because it allows home-baked goods to be sold to support charities. The law, meanwhile, doesn't apply to other non-potentially hazardous foods like chocolate, candies or pastas.

The law requires bakers to rent commercial kitchens, which can cost them tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Erica Smith, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit advocacy group that is representing the bakers, says the regulations eat into the profits of entrepreneurs, many of whom are raising children or are disabled.

“It’s an unfair and unconstitutional law. All these people across New Jersey just want to be able to sell their home-baked goods to be able to support themselves and their families,” Smith said Thursday outside the Union County Courthouse. “They are able to do it for charity but not for themselves. It doesn’t make sense.”

Smith said a proposed law that would allow non-potentially hazardous goods such as cookies, muffins, breads and cakes that do not require refrigeration to be baked and sold from home kitchens has near-universal support from the Legislature. But she says state Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, chairman of the Health Committee, is blocking the measure.

Smith says opposition to lifting the regulations has to do with protecting businesses from competition, not public safety.

(Sergio Bichao/Townsquare Media NJ)

Vitale has previously said that commercial bakeries have to be inspected and trained for proper food handling.

“I don’t believe in the long run that it’s a safe way to produce these products and then distribute them to the general public," he said last year. "And that’s why it is that people make investments in buying a bakery, whether it be your life savings or whatever it is. They’re required to, under law, have the right kind of facility."

Smith says nobody has ever gotten sick from home-baked goods in other states.

The plaintiffs include Heather Russinko, a Sussex County mom raising a 14-year-old son; Elizabeth Cibotariu, an Iraq War veteran raising two daughters in Ocean County; and Martha Rabello, a Union County resident who decided to become a stay-at-home mom.

Jennifer Marich, a mother of five who runs Sweetest Moments out of her home in Manalapan, says she pays $22 an hour to rent a commercial kitchen.

Marich said consumers should have “the right to choose whether they’re comfortable buying from us or going to a storefront for their goods."

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.