Many federal, state and local agencies work together to regulate and monitor the production, packaging, distribution and selling of food products. You will need to know the laws and government guidelines before you start a food business. The exact state and local agencies that you will need to contact depends upon the type of food service business that you are starting or buying, the type of facility and the location of your business.

Permit from Health Department

You are going to have to obtain a permit from your state health department in order to ensure that food is being stored, prepared and served in a safe manner and environment. In addition, you may need to purchase either a license or permit from the local health department. Some food businesses are required to have an owner or employee get special food handling training to become a Certified Food Handler. There may be special requirements if you are starting a mobile food service, such as an ice cream truck or selling food as a street vendor.

You should contact the heath department of your city and state, tell them the type of business you are planning to open and ask them what licenses or certificates you will need to proceed.

Food Manufacturing

In many areas, food may not be manufactured in the home for distribution. In some areas, food can be prepared in the home and then sold wholesale to retail markets if there is a separate kitchen or production facility in the home that is specifically dedicated for that purpose. The local Public Health Department inspects food sold at the place of production, while food manufactured for wholesale distribution is under the supervision of the state Department of Agriculture.

Federal Regulations

Most specialty foods cross state boundaries during distribution, so a business dealing with these types of products will be subject to federal regulations. The federal agencies responsible for food safety are the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates all food and food-related products, except commercially processed egg products, meat products and poultry products, which are regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Fruits, vegetables and other plants are regulated by that Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to prevent the introduction of plant diseases and pests into the United States. The voluntary grading of fruits and vegetables is carried out by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) of the USDA.

The primary focus of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is food safety. The FDA does not offer financing or business tips for starting up and maintaining a business. The FDA offers information on food safety guidelines and regulations it has established that are required for informative labeling and the safe preparation, manufacture and distribution of food products.

Local Agencies

You may need to contact several local agencies to find out what you need to do to start your food services business including the Fire Department, Building Department, and local agencies handling business licensing, liquor permits, sewage hookups and so forth. Most agencies have an information specialist who can answer your specific questions. Which agencies you need to contact will depend on your particular business.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can you assist me in obtaining the necessary permits and licenses for my food or hospitality-related business?
  • Are the types of licenses and permits I need dependent upon where and to whom I plan to offer my food-related products and services? What if I want to sell my products at local fairs or festivals, or I only do a small volume of business?
  • Are there any special considerations I need to address if I want to offer my food-related products online and I plan on selling products to customers regionally or nationally?

Tagged as: Business Law, Small Business Law, food hospitality, license permits