I’m starting my own food business, what kind of permits do I need to sell food?

We get this question daily from makers who are starting their own food company. 

We hope that the following information helps guide you on what you need to do to comply with the state and county food laws.

What kind of food permits are there?

Every commercial food producer must obtain a permit to operate in order to sell their products to a retail store, food distributor, tech campus, or directly to consumers (online or at a farmers market).  This is true for makers working at KitchenTown or any other commercial kitchen.

Most makers will require either:

A county health permit 


A California Processed Food Registration (PFR), issued by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH)

But some may require both.

Depending on the product you make, you may also need a permit from the USDA (meat products), CDFA (dairy products) or a Cannery Permit (if you are making a shelf stable low acid product).


How do I know which permit I need?

To determine whether your food business requires a PFR, county permit, or both depends on whether your products are packaged, how they are sold, and to whom. The rules are not entirely black and white, but most companies fall under the following set of basic rules.

General Rule 1:

If you sell unpackaged products direct to consumers at farmers markets or you are a catering company or mobile food vendor, then you need to obtain a county health permit.

General Rule 2:

If you sell a labeled, packaged product direct to consumers, to stores, or through distributors, then you need to obtain a Processed Food Registration from the state. The CDPH (the California Department of Public Health) enforces rules regarding food safety and label compliance when it comes to any packaged foods. The chart above should help you determine which permit you are required to have as a commercial food company.

More information can be found at your local county health department and CDPH.

What happens after I apply for a permit?

After you apply for a county or state health permit, you will be scheduled for an in-person inspection at the facility where you will be producing your product. County and state inspections include a physical walk through and inspection of the facility.

What happens during the inspection?

Inspectors will check and review:

  • refrigeration temperatures
  • proper handwashing stations
  • chemical control
  • pest control
  • your sanitation practices
  • standard operating procedures (SOPs)
  • cross contamination practices

If you are making a packaged food, CDPH inspectors will also review your packaging label for claims made, ingredient statement, allergen statement, company address, proper font size, etc. Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP’s) are also often reviewed.

A KitchenTown representative does not need to be present for your inspection, but you will need access to KitchenTown’s pest control logs and sanitation standard operating procedures.

IMPORTANT NOTE!  PFRs are facility specific. Once you have a permit for a particular facility, you will need to apply for a change of facility if you move.


Is there anything else I should know?

You may need a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) Plan if you’re planning on getting another certification like, Organic, Non-GMO, or USDA.  You will need a HACCP plan if you are a seafood or juice company. KitchenTown and does not have a HACCP Plan, but we can refer you to third parties if you need help creating one.

Other permits or regulatory licensing that you may need:

Cannery License

Low-acid foods are regulated by FDB’s Cannery Inspection Program. All information as to whether your business would need a cannery license is found at the link above.

Milk Product Plant License

Milk products plant licenses and permits are issued by CDFA for various types of businesses that handle or manufacture milk and milk products.


To file an application for inspection, visit the FSIS Application for Federal Inspection Guide.

2% cooked/3% raw meat and poultry products need to be inspected by USDA in order to sell wholesale. 1.877.374.7435 to reach the help desk for more information.

The Niche Meat Processor’s Assistance Network has a wealth of information on their website for starting a food processing plant. If you don’t find the answer to your specific question, you can register and post on their list serve. When you post your question, it is received by hundreds of meat and poultry processors with many years of experience who are willing to share the benefit of their experiences.

We hope that this information was helpful!  If you have more questions, leave a comment below!