People love fresh cookies and cakes right out of the oven, but home bakers in Massachusetts may not sell their products without government permission. Just learning the law can be difficult. Unlike most states, which have one set of rules for all homemade food producers, Massachusetts requires special permission from local boards of health. The result is a patchwork of regulations that vary widely across 351 jurisdictions. Some residents may not sell any homemade foods under any circumstance, while other residents may sell a wide range of homemade foods.
Massachusetts cottage food types
Many states regulate “cottage food,” meaning food made in a home kitchen for sale. Massachusetts authorizes cottage food operations in its Retail Food Code, adopted in 2000. Massachusetts limits cottage food sales to products that can be stored safely at room temperature. Generally this includes baked goods, dried goods, candies, pastries and preserves. Massachusetts cottage food producers may not prepare finished products that require hot or cold holding for safety.
Massachusetts cottage food venues
Massachusetts cottage food producers may sell their products at a wide range of venues. If a person sells directly to consumers, the commonwealth defines the operation as a “Retail Residential Kitchen.” These businesses may operate at farmers’ markets, craft fairs and online stores with mail delivery. If a person sells indirectly to consumers at retail outlets like supermarkets, coffee shops or restaurants, the commonwealth defines the operation as a “Wholesale Residential Kitchen.” Additional regulations apply to Wholesale Residential Kitchens.
Getting started in Massachusetts
Massachusetts requires cottage food producers to pass a home inspection before selling anything. Clearing the hurdle can be easy, grueling or impossible, depending on where a person lives in the commonwealth. Some local health departments reject applications based on petty infractions, such as having wooden cupboards rather than stainless steel cupboards in the kitchen. Other municipalities do not offer home inspections at all, which blocks anyone within the jurisdiction from getting started. Meanwhile, other municipalities use zoning rules to restrict cottage food sales. Until recently, the Boston Planning and Zoning Department opposed any commercial use of residential kitchens—despite a state law that specifically authorizes Retail Residential Kitchens. The Massachusetts Department of Health provides additional guidance, but does not maintain a database of local rules.
Boston cottage food rules
Boston passed an ordinance to allow Retail Residential Kitchens on March 31, 2021. The change was a win for economic liberty, but setting up a cottage food business is still not easy in the city. Homemade food producers must pass annual inspections from the Health Division of the Boston Inspectional Services Department (ISD), comply with state sanitation rules, and receive regulatory approval from the Boston Zoning Board of Appeal.
Massachusetts cottage food facts
Myths about cottage food abound. Here are the facts:
- Cottage food is safe. Critics who talk about the risk of food-borne illness give hypothetical examples of what could go wrong because real-world cases are rare or nonexistent.
- Cottage food is local. When neighbors trade with neighbors, money stays in the local economy.
- Cottage food is transparent. People who buy from a cottage food producer know what they get. If they have questions about ingredients, sourcing or safety, they can ask.
- Cottage food creates jobs. Many homemade food producers use their income to provide for their families. Others seek a secondary or supplemental income.
- Cottage food empowers women. IJ cottage food research shows that most cottage food producers are women, and many live in rural areas with limited economic opportunity.
- Cottage food expands consumer choice. Some stores simply don’t sell what you want. This is especially true if you have a gluten-free, peanut-free, halal, kosher or vegan diet. Cottage food fills market gaps, giving consumers more options.
Massachusetts cottage food resources
As part of its Food Freedom Initiative, the Institute for Justice provides a variety of resources for home bakers and other food entrepreneurs. These include:
- Model Food Freedom Act from the Institute for Justice guides activism efforts at state capitols nationwide.
- Flour Power: How Cottage Food Entrepreneurs Are Using Their Home Kitchens to Become Their Own Bosses surveys 775 cottage food producers in 22 states about what their businesses mean to them.
- Ready to Roll highlights nine lessons from the Institute for Justice’s cottage food victory in Wisconsin.
- The Attack on Food Freedom examines the impact of regulations on farmers, chefs, artisans, restaurateurs, food truck operators and others.
Tell your Massachusetts story
Is government violating your homemade food freedom in Massachusetts? Do you have a potential case for IJ? Get started here…
Support Massachusetts legislation
Help expand cottage food laws in Massachusetts by teaming with the Institute for Justice. Send an email with your name, background information and availability to get started…
Defending homemade food freedom nationwide
People have a right to earn an honest living without arbitrary and excessive government interference. Since 2013, the Institute for Justice has defended home bakers and chefs as part of its Food Freedom Initiative. Read about IJ’s nationwide food freedom advocacy…
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