Small businesses that produce, process or distribute food or beverages for human consumption may be regulated by local governments. These regulations include such things as quality inspections and licensing requirements. Local governments are authorized to regulate these activities under their police power, which is the authority delegated to them by federal and state constitutions to provide for the health and safety of their citizens.
Authority of Local Governments
Local governments may impose regulations on food and beverages if they are within their power under state law. The regulations are without effect if they are preempted by state or federal law, which means that the state or federal government has existing laws that control in those matters. The regulations are also void if they conflict with state or federal laws.
Local governments may impose licensing requirements on businesses that produce, process or distribute food or beverages. In addition, they may impose licensing fees to cover the cost of enforcing regulations. The regulations may not discriminate against out-of-town merchants or impose an undue burden on interstate commerce.
Local governments have regulated the following kinds of businesses which produce, process or distribute food and beverages:
- Slaughterhouses. These entities produce meat for human consumption by slaughtering animals and packaging the meat. Local governments can extensively regulate these businesses to safeguard the community health. They can ban slaughterhouses from their cities if the slaughterhouses amount to nuisances. They have the authority to inspect slaughterhouses and the meats they are processing. This authority includes inspecting animals about to be slaughtered and the carcasses of slaughtered animals, providing for the destruction of any animals or meat found unfit for human consumption, and providing for marks indicating the meat has been approved for sale.
- Meat markets and butcher shops. Local governments can regulate and inspect these businesses. The sale of uncured and uncooked meats can be regulated, and canned meat products can be inspected and marked. Local governments can require a certain kind of packaging. They can also regulate meat distribution, but regulations in this area are often preempted by state and federal pure food acts. One area that is usually not preempted is the inspection and licensing of meat delivery vehicles.
- Vendors and distributors. Local governments may reasonably regulate and inspect groceries, license businesses selling foodstuffs, and require proper refrigeration as well as adequate protection from bugs, flies and dirt. They may regulate businesses which transport foodstuffs and bakeries which cook and sell food. This area is often preempted by state and federal pure food acts.
- Milk and dairy producers and distributors. The production and distribution of milk and dairy products may be regulated by local governments. That includes regulating and inspecting dairy herds and dairying facilities, and demanding tuberculin tests. It also includes licensing of milk distributors.
- Restaurants and caterers. Local governments can reasonably regulate and inspect these businesses.
If you have any questions about local government regulations on the production or sale of food or beverages, contact a small business lawyer in your area.
Questions for Your Attorney
- How do I find out if the local government has any regulations on the grocery store which I own?
- What happens if a local court finds that my business has violated a local regulation on transporting food?
- What should I do if I think that a local merchant is selling spoiled food?