Bake Sales Now Legal in the City of Worcester
Posted by Drew.
I’m excited to announce a (small) victory for sanity.
This morning the director of the City of Worcester’s Health Department gave me a copy of their new guidelines for bake sales in the city of Worcester. The take-away message: bake sales in Worcester require no permit and require no fees. See the guidelines below for more details.
The guidelines are a little silly at points, but are very clear about there being no permit or fee requirement. By listing potentially hazardous ingredients, they are trying to minimize the possibility of a food borne illness. An interesting point: the guidelines generally steer bakers away from animal products. They say not to use eggs or custards, meats, and other animal products. It is easiest to comply by making your bake sale vegan. So pick up a copy of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World and Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar and start experimenting with your vegan baking.
Without further delay, here are the city’s new guidelines for organizing a bake sale in the City of Worcester (pdf):
The rest of this blog post explains the background of our vegan bake sale getting shut down and our subsequent meetings with the city. If someone gets into a similar situation in the City of Worcester or another town or city in Mass, the PDFs below will certainly be helpful in making the point that, under MA law, bake sales and food give-aways are not required to get a permit or pay a fee.
Background: The City Shut Down Our Vegan Bake Sale
In the evening on April 6, 2011 VegWorcester had our vegan bake sale shut down by the Health Department of City of Worcester. A cop, a food inspector and a nuisance inspector showed up and told the volunteer who organized the event that she must close it down immediately. It was a bizarre. To explain, it was a small affair with about 4 bakers and 30-40 attendees. We were doing some fundraising for our big annual VegFest. We complied with the sanitation officer’s request, but set a meeting to follow up soon. We still had a fun event. We just ate the baked goods ourselves, no sales. Many kind people chose to donate a couple of bucks anyway.
Meeting with the City
Step 1: “All bake sales are illegal”
Initially the city officials said that all bake sales in Worcester are illegal. That includes VegWorcester bake sales, but also includes schools, cub scout troops, and churches. My understanding of theÂ MassachusettsÂ food code leads me to believe that this is not accurate. The MA code is pretty clear about this.
The Mass Department of Public Health’s guideline for local boards of health (pdf) says,”non-profit organization (ie soup kitchens, food donations for charity), which distribute food for free or at cost, and neighborhood bake sales, are exempt from the regulations” The Mass food code was last updated in 1999 (pdf) and provides a specific exemption for bake sales and community/charitable groups that give out food for free (page 4). I provided the health department officials with highlighted copies of the MA food code that indicate this, but at this point they were sticking to their guns. After the first meeting the outlook was grim.
The director of the department and the chief sanitarian said the only way to hold a legal bake sale was to have each baker prepare the food in a certified commercial kitchen and pay a $55 fee per baker. Obviously, those requirements would effectively ban all bake sales, since a bake sale is commonly defined as prepared in a home kitchen and sold in a public place. Under those requirements, our little vegan bake sale would require $220 in permitting fees for an event that might raise $50. The department head is a reasonable person and I think she agreed with me that this is an absurdÂ requirement for a bake sale.
Step 2: How do other Massachusetts cities and towns handle bake sales?
In our first meeting, I told the two city officials that this issue has already been addressed in other cities in Mass by specifically saying that they are no permit (or fee) requirements. Some cities have guidelines for what items are more potentially hazardous (mainly animal products). We agreed to both do some research on how other cities in MA have dealt with bake sale regulation and meet again.
Surprisingly this isn’t the first time that cities in Mass have dealt with this. Wayland has guidelines for bake sales (pdf) that includes a specific exception from permits and fees, Westford has similar guidelines (pdf), Warwick says they allow bake sales without regulation (pdf), and Salem went through a long debate about it with the city first banning bake sales (pdf) then relaxing the regulation after backlash (pdf). The general end result is that bake sales are allowed without regulation but the city issues a set of guidelines for reducing illness outbreaks.
The Resolution: Bake Sale Guidelines
Today we had the follow up meeting. The director of the department had reviewed how other cities in MA deal with bake sales and agreed to not regulate them. She provided me with their new guidelines for bake sales in the City of Worcester, which says these magical words, “These events do not require a permit.”
I think we will celebrate this day by naming it Vegan Bake Sale Day. We’ll certainly be holding another bake sale soon.
So happy Vegan Bake Sale Day, everyone. Enjoy a cupcake today to celebrate.