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Starting a Food Business
Starting a Food Business: What type of permit should I apply for?
This depends on what type of food items you want to prepare and where you intend to sell them

If your food product is non-potentially hazardous than a Residential Retail Permit may be right for you .Complete application form G3  and submit a detailed list of your proposed food products  with sample labels attached .   Once The Health Department receives your application an inspection of your home kitchen can be scheduled.

Residential Retail Kitchen Permit
Non-Potentially Hazardous Foods
Massachusetts limits the types of foods that can be prepared in a licensed home kitchen to non Potentially Hazardous Foods (PHFs). On a very basic level this generally means you can make any food that is not perishable and does not require refrigeration. Technically, it must have water content of 0.85 or below, and a pH level of 4.6 or below.

Types of foods that are allowed include baked goods (cakes and cookies), jams, and jellies. It is acceptable to use PHF products in the preparation of food as long as the result is non PHF. Not allowed are foods like cream-filled pastries, cheescake, or custard, in addition to cut fruit and vegetables, tomato sauce, barbeque sauce, pickled products, relishes, garlic in oil, and salad dressings. Anything requiring state or federal processing approval, like acidification, curing, smoking, hot fill or vacuum packaging, is prohibited.If your product is not on the approved list, you can have it tested by a facility for pH and water activity, and it might be approved .

  • Purchasing - You must buy your food only from a vendor approved by the state.
  • Storage - A separate dry and cold storage for your business and personal food items in your kitchen are required. This means that you need a separate shelf or designated spot for your business food that is separate from your personal food.
  • Labeling - If you package your food it must also meet requirements set forth in 105 CMR 520.000 for labeling, which differ for Retail and Wholesale.
  • HygieneYou must follow the same health, hygiene, hand washing, and toilet use requirements as if you were using a standard commercial kitchen.
  • Equipment and Utensils - These need to be made of safe materials and kept in good repair. Generally standard kitchen equipment is sufficient, as long as it is in a condition where it can be properly sanitized.
  • Food Contact Surfaces - All surfaces that may come into contact with food, like counters, sinks, work surfaces, etc., need to be made of smooth, non absorbent materials that are easily cleanable. Again, this requirement is generally easily met in a home kitchen as long as you don't have cracks in your countertop and you can properly sanitize everything that food will come into contact with.
  • Cleaning and Sanitizing - The same rules apply for cleaning and sanitizing as for a commercial kitchen, but there are some looser exceptions that allow for the use of a residential dishwasher, as long as the highest setting of sanitizing possible for that machine is used, and the temperature rises to 150 degrees, which needs to be tested everyday, with records kept for 30 days. Although this is on the books, it seems unlikely that these records would be requested.
  •  Employees & Brokers - Only immediate family members residing in the household can prepare food for sale. No outside employees can be used. Brokers, wholesalers or warehouses also can not be used.
  • Insects and rodents - As in any kitchen, you need to take steps to avoid having insects and rodents in your kitchen.
  • Pets - Massachusetts does allow a household with pets to license their home kitchen, but those pets must be kept out of the kitchen and preparation areas during food preparation.
  • Laundry - If there is a clothes washer and dryer located in the kitchen, it can remain there but can not be used during food preparation.
  • Guests - The cooking facilities can not be used by guests while food is being prepared for the business.
  • Trash - Cans used for trash need to have lids that seal securely.
If you want to wholesale your product to a retail shop you will be required to obtain an additional Wholesale License from the  State Department of Public Health   

If the food products you wish to produce are Potentially Hazardous(PHF) than a Commercial Kitchen Permit is required, but you dont have to build out a kitchen just yet if you can join an incubator kitchen.

Commercial Food License (shared use venue)
Considering a Culinary Incubator

Is a Culinary Incubator right for you?
Culinary incubators work great for some food businesses and not for others. The types of businesses that can most benefit from culinary incubators are those that are small enough that they do not need, nor could they afford a full-time space. They are perfect for start-ups that do not have the capital to invest in building their own kitchen. They allow on-going small food businesses to survive without the enormous overhead of managing and maintaining a licensed commercial kitchen. Culinary Incubators are perfect during tougher economic times, as they allow businesses to cut back on hours of kitchen use, but still stay in businesses with reduced costs to meet reduced demand.

Is a Health Department License necessary?
Preparing your product in a licensed kitchen is imperative if you want to legally sell your products.

What does HACCP-compliant mean
HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points and is an internationally adopted systematic approach to preventing food-born illness. In the food industry this system has been designed for and applies to chefs, cooks, equipment, processing, packaging and transportation of food.

How do HACCP rules effect me?
In order for you to become fluent in the sanitary handling of the food products you cook most Health Departments require you to become familiar with effective approaches to food safety. There are short courses available throughout the country as well as on-line. You will then take an exam which should lead to a Food Handler’s Certificate. Increasingly, in most states the Health Department requires someone who is a Certified Food Handler to be on premise in your commercial kitchen whenever you are cooking.

Is there a difference between wholesale and retail food processing and can this effect the kitchen I use?
Though the actual cooking process may be the same, where and how you sell your product may effect the type of license you work under. Some Health Departments differentiate between the two types of licenses and maintain that you need wholesale vs. retail or visa versa. Other departments let the line blur, or do not enforce this differentiation in licenses. You should check this out when you are looking for a Culinary Incubator---make sure that they carry the correct Health Department Licenses for your own particular needs, and if you do both wholesales and retail that it is allowed in that particular facility.

Could I use a church kitchen instead of a Culinary Incubator?
The idea of renting one of the nice large kitchens that exist in many churches and synagogues---and even schools, sounds at first like a perfect place for you to cook. However, upon second thought it is not. The problems are two-fold. First, these facilities are not usually licensed, thereby they do not receive regular health department inspections, and may not meet the department’s specifications for commercial food production. Second, and equally important, is that these are non-profit organizations and therefore cannot legally rent out kitchen space for a for-profit business.

Local Options

Incubator Commercial Kitchens(shared use)  for Food Start-Ups

This site contains excellant resource material  for starting a business with downloadable forms

Guidance Documents

Massachusettes and FDA Regulatory Requirements

Applications, Best Management Practices,105 CMR 500  Regulatory Requirements and Product Labeling

Applications, 105 CMR 590  Regulatory Requirements and Product Labeling

Applications, Best Management Practices, Regulatory Requirements and Specialized Processes(Thermal Processing, Slaughter Operations etc)

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