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Private vs Public Food Events

When a Permit is Required

The Board of Health protects the general public by promoting safe food handling and smart menu choices for large groups, especially those with at risk populations (the elderly, the very young, or those with weakened immune systems). The Health Division staff raises awareness of food-borne illness by offering guidance and information that encourages safe food preparation/handling that will reduce or eliminate adverse health effects. This collaborative effort between the Board of Health, it’s staff and the users of non-profit kitchens allows groups to sponsor events like fund raisers, soup kitchens and community suppers without endangering the health of the general public.

Public Events and Fund Raisers

Any event where food is served to the “general public” requires a temporary permit from the local Board of Health. A public event is defined as “an event that is advertised with fliers, banners, newspaper articles, radio or TV announcements, or by other means, (regardless of whether or not a fee is charged), is considered a public event and is subject to health code requirements of the regulatory authority.” Churches, Temples, school groups and other non-profit groups often use food sales as a way to raise funds for their organization. Several factors are evaluated to determine the food safety of these events, such as:

  • Proposed menu
  • Condition of the facility where food is being prepared
  • Equipment provided
  • Food safety knowledge and handling

Events that propose a menu that includes Potentially Hazardous Foods (PHF) or Temperature Controlled for Safety Foods (TCS) such as eggs, meats, mayonnaise-based foods and other foods that require temperature control, pose the highest risks and, therefore, must meet more stringent guidelines to insure food safety. No foods for a public event or fundraiser should be made in a home or residential kitchen (except baked goods such as cookies, brownies or cakes or exempt potluck). A bake sale is the only public event that does not require a temporary permit.

Health Division staff can work with the “person in charge” of the event to assist in modifying menu choices or food preparation techniques that will reduce potential food hazards.

Bake sales

Non-potentially hazardous foods such as cakes, cookies, pies, brownies etc. which do not need refrigeration may be made in a home kitchen for sale at a bake sale. When possible, food items should be pre-packaged before sale; vendors must wear gloves while handling unpackaged foods. Contact the Health Division for food safety guidance and to determine of a Temporary Food Permit is needed for your event.

Catered Events

Events where a caterer prepares the food requires that the caterer register with the local Board of Health. Caterers must submit a copy of the proposed menu, identify the location of the event, indicate the number of guests to be served, provide a copy of the permit from the town in which they are licensed and provide proof of food safety training. If the food is prepared by a caterer but service is done by another organization then a Temporary Event Permit must be obtained by the entity doing the food service.  A facility holding a permit as a residential kitchen shall not serve as the base of operations for a caterer.

NOTE: A Temporary Food Event Permit is required for an event where a caterer prepares and delivers the food, but the sponsoring organization serves the food. The sponsoring organization is responsible for hot and cold holding of any food (i.e., sandwiches, quiches, soups, etc.) to ensure proper temperatures for safe food handling and service. The sponsoring organization must contact the Health Division for food safety guidance and to obtain a Temporary Food Permit for events that fall into this category.


Private Events

A private event is an exclusive group, which could include family, friends, neighbors or committee members meeting over a shared meal. In this type of situation, a temporary permit from the Board of Health is not needed. Food prepared in a home kitchen is allowed only at a private event, such as Potluck suppers.

Some events may ride the fine line between a public event and a private event, the Health Division is here to answer your questions and assist you with any additional information you may need to clarify whether a temporary permit is needed. Please contact us by phone at 978-777-0001 Ext 3095.


Potluck Events

Potluck  events do not require a permit from the Board of Health. The State of  Massachusetts loosened the regulatory requirements for potluck dinners to allow charitable organizations to share food at communal events without regulatory oversight. In 2014, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law chapter 230, section 328A, “An Act Relative to Potluck Events”.
Under this legislation, all of the following conditions must be met for the event to be considered a “Potluck Event” exempt from regulation:

  • People must be gathered to share food at the event;
  • No compensation may be provided for bringing food to the event;
  • The event is sponsored by a group of individuals or by a religious, charitable or non-profit organization;
  • The event may not be conducted for commercial purposes, but money may be collected to support the religious, charitable or non-profit organization; and
  • The participants at the event must be informed that neither the food nor the facilities have been inspected by the state or the local public health agency.

A business establishment dealing in the sale of food may not sponsor a potluck event. Additionally, food from the potluck event shall not be brought into the kitchen of a business establishment dealing in the sale of food. Potluck  and private events do not require a permit from the Board of Health.



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