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Food business license requirements

Updated March 23, 2017

Any businesses that prepare food for public consumption must ensure that it is processed, prepared and preserved in a sanitary manner in order to avoid food contamination and customer illness. Kitchens and facilities used for the preparation of commercial foods must meet strict hygiene standards. State and municipal public health agencies regulate food processing facilities such as restaurants, cafes, concession stands, manufacturing plants, mobile food trucks and grocery stores, and issue licenses to allow their operations.

Establishments

Retail food establishments and any other facilities that provide food, such as schools, senior centres, hospitals and homeless shelters, must be appropriately licensed by complying with state food codes that are generally adapted from the federal Food and Drug Administration's Food Code. The food code exists to ensure public health by providing consumers with food that is safe and uncontaminated. Codes set standards for management and personnel, equipment, facilities, food operations and service. Failure to comply with standards will result in the suspension of permits and licenses and fines. If standards are not brought up to code, businesses run the risk of their license being revoked and having their business closed down permanently.

Licensing Requirements

Licensing requirements vary from state to state and between municipalities. Be sure that your establishment complies with the codes relevant to your business location. Integral to state and municipal licensing requirements are the commercial kitchen standards required for sanitary food production. Standards include the amount of walk-through space between cabinets, work surfaces and appliances; floor coverings must be nonslip and easy to clean; wall coverings must be durable and easy to clean; grills, ranges, overs, fryers and rotisseries must all have a commercial grade exhaust ventilation hood; there must be separate stainless steel sinks for food preparation and janitorial and cleaning duties; refrigeration units must operate within certain temperature ranges and allow for separate storage of different food types; the fire suppression system must comply with local fire codes; and electrics must meet UL standards.

A chef planning to produce and sell food from his home must ensure the kitchen complies with all regulations. It can be expensive to convert a residential kitchen to commercial code standards, and it may be less expensive to ask an established commercial kitchen, such as that of a cafe that is only open in the evenings, if you can rent their kitchen when they are closed for business.

Inspections

State-authorised agents and representatives of licensing agencies have the right to enter and inspect all facilities where food is produced at-will. They may also secure samples for inspection. The inspection of establishments throughout a state may be completed by state, county or municipal public health agencies, or a combination of all three. Agents also have the write to close a premises immediately, if they identify serious code violations.

Licenses

Depending on where the food premises are located, a local municipality may require plan reviews, inspections, staff training and payment of fees before they will issue the operational permits and licenses required to open the business. A food business must not operate without the appropriate licenses. Ensure that all your permits and licenses are in order before you open your doors for business.

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About the Author

Helen Harvey began her writing career in 1990 and has worked in journalism, writing, copy-editing and as a consultant. She has worked for world-class news sources including Reuters and the "Daily Express." She holds a Master of Arts in mass media communications from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.