Food Service Establishment Licenses

Woman hand reaching for a burger at food truck. Closeup of food truck salesman serving burger to female customer.

Do I need a Food License?

If you are serving food or drink to the public, you need a license. Per the Michigan Food Law, Act 92 of 2000, as amended, the following establishments are exempt from Food Service licensure in Michigan:

  • A hotel, motel, or bed and breakfast that serves continental breakfasts only. Click Here for more information about continental breakfasts.
  • A bed and breakfast that has 10 or less sleeping rooms for rent.
  • A child care organization, unless the establishment is operating in a way that is considered by the director to be food service.
  • Cottage Food Operation
  • A person offering whole, uncut fresh fruits and vegetables directly to consumers.
  • A temporary food establishment with no food preparation using only single-service articles and serving only pre-packaged, non-potentially hazardous food or beverage.
  • Ice cream trucks that offer only prepackaged, single-serving frozen desserts.
  • Feeding operations in response to a disaster.
  • Non-profit organizations serving home prepared food in conjunction with a fundraiser.
  • Churches serving food to a closed group within the church (e.g., deacons, church choir, or a specific committee). If you can bring a friend, it’s not exempt.

All other facilities serving food to the public require a license. If you have questions about whether or not your facility or event is exempt from licensure, please call the DHD10 health department to find out further information.

What are the different types of food licenses issued by a local health department?

Fixed Food Service Establishment: Any place where food or drink is prepared and offered for immediate consumption to the public. Most restaurants, bars, catering kitchens, fraternal organizations serving the public, churches serving the public, and schools fall into this category.

Seasonal Food Service Establishment: A fixed food service establishment that operates for 9 months or less out of the year. Generally, ice-cream shops, golf courses and schools that don’t offer a summer program would fall into this category.

Incidental Food Service Establishment: A fixed food service establishment with a menu limited to popcorn, hand-dipped ice cream, fountain pop, coffee, and/or soft pretzels or a satellite facility with no food preparation. This category is more rarely used, but would include most movie theaters or concession stands, in addition to schools that only have a ‘warming kitchen’, where a central school prepares food and then delivers it hot to be served only.

Transitory Food Service Establishment (Special Transitory Food Unit or STFU): A food service establishment that can move and operate anywhere throughout the state of Michigan. Typically, an STFU operation is temporary in nature, but is not bound by the 14-day time limit set by the Michigan temporary food service establishment laws. An STFU will have all parts of a fixed food service establishment but be mobile. An example would be most food trailers or trucks that operate at fairs and festivals.

Mobile Food Service Establishment: A food service establishment that can move and operate anywhere throughout the state of Michigan but is limited by the requirement to return to a commissary location at least once every 24 hours. Unlike an STFU, a mobile food service establishment does not have all the parts of a fixed food service establishment on board. For instance, a mobile unit may not have the capability of ware washing or cooking food but may be able to hot or cold hold foods. An example may be a food truck that visits a downtown area each day but returns to its commissary to stock up and clean each night.

Mobile Food Service Commissary: A food establishment that acts as a support location for a mobile food service establishment. A commissary may have dry goods storage, cold holding storage, cooking equipment and/or ware washing equipment. A commissary need not operate as an independent food service establishment.

NOTE: All licenses issued are NON-TRANSFERABLE and expire April 30 of every year. Late fees will be assessed if a license renewal is postmarked May 1 or later.

Temporary Food Service Establishment: A food establishment that is licensed for a single event. Examples include fairs, festivals, craft shows, fundraiser meals and concessions at various short-term events. Temporary food service operators are only allowed to operate for a period of up to 14 consecutive days for one specific location. Applicants wanting to operate in a different location must apply for a new temporary food permit for that new location.

What law(s) must food establishments follow?

All food service establishments in Michigan must comply with the Michigan Food Law, Act 92 of 2000, as amended. The Michigan Food Law adopted the FDA Food Code of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as the sanitation standard for all Michigan food establishments. The specific edition of the Food Code may change over time as changes are made to Act 92. Refer to Act 92 to reference which version of the Food Code is currently adopted.

I’m only serving food at private events (e.g., open houses, family parties, and weddings). Do I need a license? Do you license people (e.g., caterers)?

Yes. These events are closed but are not private; unless they are only for your own family, friends, or co-workers. A license is not required if the private event is for your family, friends, or co-workers (e.g., a mom cooking an open house meal or an uncle cooking for a wedding).

Can I transfer my food license to someone else?

Food service licenses are not transferable to new owners or new locations. When the ownership of a food establishment will be changing hands, the new owner must apply for a new license. It is important to know that a new license will not be issued until an inspection takes place and a plan review has been completed, if applicable. Applications must be made at least 30 days in advance of any change to allow time for inspection and processing. Often questions arise asking what constitutes an ownership change. Here are some examples to assist you in determining if an ownership change has occurred:

Corporation name change only? No
Same corporation but change in corporate officers? No
New partner in a partnership? Yes
Change in type of ownership (from one to another, i.e. individual, partnership, joint tenant, or corporation)? Yes

How often is a food service establishment inspected?

All food service establishments have regular routine inspections. Inspections are once every six months for year round establishments. Seasonal establishments (nine or less months of operation per year) are inspected once per year. Routine inspections through District Health Department #10 are generally unannounced. One or more follow-up inspections may take place shortly after a routine inspection to verify correction of violations.

Are all violations the same?

There are three categories of Food Code violations – priority violations, priority foundation violations and core violations. Inspectors also cite Michigan Food Law violations.

  • Priority Violations – The highest risk violations which are directly related to an increased risk of foodborne illness. Examples – improper handwashing, unsafe food temperatures
  • Priority Foundation Violations – Violations that can create a high risk (Priority) violation. Examples – lack of soap at a hand sink, no calibrated thermometer, no test strips to test sanitizer levels
  • Core Violations – Lower risk violations. Examples – general cleaning and maintenance of facilities (floors, walls, ceilings)
  • Michigan Food Law Violations – Cited separately from Food Code violations. These are state-specific requirements. Examples – Certified manager, license hanging in a conspicuous place