Roadside sales of shrimp, fish, meat and poultry from mobile vehicles have come under new regulations adopted by the Mississippi Department of Agriculture to require proper sanitation to protect public health.
The new regulations that went into effect Sept.17 require all fish, poultry and meat vendors engaged in retail food sales to obtain licenses and comply with regulations within 90 days.
“We are concerned with proper sanitation,” said Ricky Gray, spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Agriculture. “Roadside sellers have to be licensed, meet standards for temperature control, and give assurances that foreign matter doesn’t get into the food.”
Gray said the new licensing regulations don’t affect shrimpers who sell seafood out of the back of their boats on the Coast. The regulations are only for the sale of fresh and frozen fish, meat and poultry from mobile vehicles.
Roadside sales of shrimp are popular in Jackson and elsewhere in the state. The intent of the regulations is to prevent the sale of spoiled meats and the possible food poisoning that could result.
The new regulations require that a retail food store license be obtained for each vehicle being used for sales. The vehicle has to be inspected in order to be licensed, and meet the requirement that the vehicle’s storage areas are completely enclosed. Also, the floor and walls of the vehicles and product containers must be made of materials that have a smooth surface that can be cleaned in a sanitary manner. All foods products offered for sale must be in containers that are leak-proof.
The vehicle is required to have adequate toilet facilities unless the licensee has a written agreement with a readily accessible facility to use that facility’s toilet facilities during the hours of operation. The vehicle must also have lavatory facilities with hot and cold running water, soap and towels, or employees may use chemically treated towelettes for handwashing.
All fresh fish and poultry is to be maintained at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or less. That can accomplished with ice or mechanical refrigeration. Food must be protected from contamination from dust and other foreign matter, and the license must be displayed conspicuously on the vehicle during sales.
Roadside vendors of fresh, uncut fruits and vegetables are exempt from the regulations as long as the vegetables and fruit are not cut, prepared or canned. Fruit and vegetable vendors who sell products they have raised themselves are exempt from paying sales tax. However, if vendors are re-selling fruits and vegetables, they are required to pay sales taxes.
Roadside shrimp, fish and meat vendors are also required to pay sales taxes.
“Any of these people who do not have a permanent place of business are required to put up a sufficient bond to pay six months sales tax,” said Lester Herrington, deputy commissioner for the Mississippi State Tax Commission. “In addition to that, there may be some vendor licenses required, but that is a local licensing requirement.”
Herrington said he doesn’t think there is a major issue with in-state roadside vendors failing to pay sales taxes. However, sometimes out-of-state companies come in town with large truckload sales. In the past some of these vendors have left the state without paying sales taxes. Now the tax commission keeps an eye on newspaper and radio advertisements of these specials, requiring vendors to put up a cash bond for sales taxes, or close up sales and leave.
“Agents across the state try to stay aware of those situations,” Herrington said. “We are aware that if we don’t get a cash bond up front, there is a good possibility we’ll end of losing the taxes. We’ll never see them again. If we don’t get the cash bond up front that guarantees they will file and pay taxes, and the company leaves Mississippi, that doesn’t give us much recourse to collect. That’s why we try to keep up with all these non-permanent situations.”
Used car sales on the side of the road are also common, but Herrington said they aren’t considered a big problem because buyers have to pay sales taxes when they purchase a license tag. Buying from an individual requires a 3% sales tax. Purchasing from a dealer requires a 5% sales tax.
“There is a 2% advantage for that person operating as a non dealer compared to someone operating as a dealer,” Herrington said. “But there are requirements necessary to be considered a dealer. You have to sell at least 24 vehicles per year, and have a lot with office space and signs that would indicate you are in business.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.