How to Become a Food Vendor in Massachusetts

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When you apply for a food vendor license in Massachusetts, you work more with your local government than with the state. If you want to sell hot dogs in Boston, for example, you deal with Boston food cart rules, not Massachusetts hot-dog cart regulations. Your business will need a Massachusetts Hawker and Peddler License, though.

What Type of Vendor?

Before applying for a food vendor license in Massachusetts, you'll need to decide what you're going to serve and how. This affects the regulations you have to deal with: Boston has different rules for pushcarts, food trucks and ice cream trucks for instance, while other cities treat ice cream vendors as just another food truck.

If you want a permit to sell food from home in Massachusetts, you'll have to avoid what the state considers "potentially hazardous" foods. For example, you can't sell anything that requires refrigeration because the state considers the risk of spoilage and food poisoning too high.

Hawkers and Peddlers

Any sort of mobile food-vending gig requires a state Hawker and Peddlers license. The state government website describes a peddler as someone who travels around "selling goods to people passing by." The license is good for one year and is non-renewable: 12 months later, you'll have to go through the entire application process again.

The license doesn't guarantee you'll get approval at the local level. If, say, Boston or Amherst rejects your food truck permit, the state won't refund your $62 peddler's license fee.

Find a Location

Food trucks and push carts are mobile, but you can't just set up shop wherever you feel like it. In Boston, for instance, food truck locations on public property are authorized by a lottery system. On private property, you have to have the owner's OK. Ice cream truck locations are regulated by the Boston Police Department.

Other cities have different rules. Cambridge, for example, only allows vending on food trucks when they're parked on private property. You must have the property owner's permission. If you buy your truck, then can't find a site, you're out of luck.

Health Permits And More

A food vendor license in Massachusetts requires approval from the local health department. An inspector will go over your cart or truck to ensure you're not selling food poisoning on a stick. Cambridge food truck requirements, for example, include the following rules:

  • The truck has running water with soap and paper towels for hand washing.
  • All your equipment, utensils and containers must be in a sanitary condition.
  • You store food, drink and condiments in ways that prevent contamination.
  • Potentially hazardous foods must be stored at an appropriate temperature. Your truck must carry a thermometer that can check the internal temperatures of foods you serve.
  • You don't touch food with your bare hands.
  • Employees must wash hands any time they become potentially contaminated.  

Your local government may also have you take out liability insurance, undergo a fire inspection and submit more paperwork. Even after you get your peddler's license, Boston, for example, requires you take out a city business license.

Residential Kitchen Application, Massachusetts

A "cottage food" business is a different type of food vendor, making food at home and selling directly to the consumer. You do need a permit to sell food from home in Massachusetts. While the exact details vary from city to city, the same general rules apply:

  • You can't sell hazardous foods. Your permit will be specific about which foods you're allowed to sell. Acceptable foods include bread, cookies, fruit pies, jam, granolas and dried fruits.
  • The local health department will inspect your kitchen before issuing a permit. You'll have to sign a document acknowledging their right to make the inspection.
  • Your kitchen water supply must be tested for cleanliness.
  • You have to complete a food-safety training course.
  • Your home kitchen has to comply with any local laws or zoning about operating a home business. 

References

Resources

About the Author

Fraser Sherman has written about every aspect of business: how to start one, how to keep one in the black, the best business structure, the details of financial statements. He's also run a couple of small businesses of his own. He lives in Durham NC with his awesome wife and two wonderful dogs. His website is frasersherman.com

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