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Here are the food truck licenses, inspections, and permits you need to open up shop, and where you can find them for your area.
It’s not enough to have a food truck idea or concept and a standout truck design. In order to operate legally, you’ll need a detailed business plan, and permits and licenses specific to mobile food and beverage establishments. For example, if you offer catering services from your food truck, like The Humble Toast, you’ll need specific restaurant permits for that service.
Here are the licenses and permits required to open and operate a food truck business.
What Do You Need to Open a Food Truck?
Before opening a food truck, you’ll need to have a thorough business plan and a written agreement with your “commissary,” or the facility where you prepare and store food. Some states like Massachusetts refer to food trucks as “mobile food establishments,” so keep that in mind when searching online for resources specific to your area.
Let’s look through some of the specific activities that lead to the need for food truck permits or licenses.
Food Truck Activities that Require Various Permits and Licenses
- Preparing and selling food
- Selling pre-prepped food
- Selling packaged time/temperature controlled for safety (TCS) food items like ice cream
- Selling beverages with TCS requirements like milk
- Doing food prep that’s considered “complex,” meaning cooking, heating, or food processing that requires hazard plans
Using a truck to transport food for grocery delivery or takeout typically doesn’t require a mobile food establishment permit.
Here are a few of the licenses and permits you may need to open and operate a food truck business.
1. Business License/Certificate
Most businesses require a license, restaurants and food trucks included. If you already have a business license and want to open a new location, you may not need to complete this step. If you’ll be serving alcoholic beverages from your food truck, you’ll need to obtain an additional business license from the Alcohol and Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), along with a state-specific business license.
How to Get a Business License
Search for your state + business license to find your local application requirements. The TTB includes an online application for an alcohol business license with links for every state.
How Much Does a Business License Cost?
Costs include the license itself and registration fees, which adds up to around $50 up front, and between $25 and a few thousand dollars annually, depending on your state’s setup and your restaurant’s revenue.
2. Employer Identification Number (EIN)
All businesses in the U.S. need to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) for tax purposes. They are issued by the IRS.
How to Get an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
Go to IRS.gov to apply for an EIN, or find instructions online on how to apply by phone, fax, or mail.
How Much Does an Employer Identification Number (EIN) Cost?
EINs are free to businesses.
3. Food Truck Permit
Some states require a food truck permit, which includes verification of all of the related requirements, like a business certificate and a certificate of liability insurance.
How to Get a Food Truck Permit
Search for your state’s food truck permit requirements to find out what’s needed.
How Much Does a Food Truck Permit Cost?
Food truck site costs depend on location, which might be separated by zone, like in Massachusetts, as well as the time of year and other factors. They can range from $100 to over $1,000.
4. Health Permit
Health permits, or building health permits, require a health division application, inspection of equipment, a food plan, a menu with consumer advisories, and building plans. They also require a Certificate of Occupancy and Certificate of Inspection and are reviewed by the local board of health.
How to Get a Health Permit
Refer to your local board of health to find health permit requirements and applications. There are often many requirements and documentation needs, so be prepared.
How Much Does a Health Permit Cost?
Health permit fees can range from $0 (for 503C organizations) to $200, and depend on establishment size and type of permit, like a catering permit.
5. Fire Permit
A fire permit might be a regular inspection by the local fire department, and will depend on where you’re selling from.
How to Get a Fire Permit
Check your local food services or inspectional services department, and review if you need to apply for a temporary permit, or an annual permit good for a designated location and length of time.
How Much Does a Fire Permit Cost?
Fire permits are often part of the Certificate of Occupancy Inspection and can range from $25 - $500 annually.
6. Food Service License
Food service licenses are issued by the local city or county health department. They inspect the facility to ensure that it’s up to code, and meets inspection standards.
How to Get a Food Service License
Refer to your local health department website and look for mobile food service.
How Much Does a Food Service License Cost?
Food service license fees range by location and number of employees, and go from $100 to $1,000.
7. Seller’s Permit
Some states require a permit to help track sales tax. This can require both a seller’s permit and a resale certificate, depending on how products are sold.
How to Get a Resale Permit
Register for a seller’s permit online through your local government’s website.
How Much Does a Resale Permit Cost?
The permit itself has no fees, but each local municipality collects a security deposit for tax payments.
8. Employee Health Permit
If employees will handle food and beverage items, they need to complete food handler training approved by the FDA.
How to Get an Employee Health Permit
Review your state’s local employee health permit requirements online.
How Much Does an Employee Health Permit Cost?
Employee health permit fees range between states, and generally cost between $100 to $500.
Restaurant inspections can be time-consuming and frightening. Learn how to prepare and avoid the fear of failing an inspection.
9. Liquor License
Some states allow mobile sale of alcoholic beverages, or food trucks that set up in specified locations to sell frozen cocktails, wine, and more. Beer and wine requirements can differ from liquor and spirits, and in some states there’s a blanket license that covers all types of alcohol.
How to Get a Liquor License
Search the TTB website for state-specific and drink-specific requirements, and review how to get a liquor license here. Here’s a tip—liquor licenses can take months to get approved, so put this on your early to-do list.
How Much Does a Liquor License Cost?
Liquor licenses can be issued temporarily, for events, or on an annual basis, and range from $75 to $6,000.
10. Hawker and Peddler License
A hawker and peddler license is required by some local municipalities for businesses who go from town to town to sell goods.
How to Get a Hawker and Peddler License
When reviewing local requirements, search for your municipal licensing agency and refer to any regulations for traveling and selling goods, or mobile outdoor sales.
How Much Does a Hawker and Peddler License Cost?
These fees average around $25 - $100.
11. Ice Cream Truck Vendor License
In some areas, the local chief of police or another municipal authority may review all ice cream truck vendors for safety.
How to Get an Ice Cream Truck Vendor License
Review local ice cream truck-specific requirements on your municipality’s website.
How Much Does an Ice Cream Truck Vendor License Cost?
Ice cream truck vendor licenses are similar to food truck vendor permits, and may be the same in some states. They cost around $100.
12. Retail Seafood Truck Permit
In areas like New England, the local board of health regulates the sale of freshly-caught seafood, and includes a mandatory inspection.
How to Get a Retail Seafood Truck Permit
Review local seafood dealer permits and requirements from the board of health.
How Much Does a Retail Seafood Truck Permit Cost?
Seafood dealer permits cost around $100 - 200.
13. Parking Permits
Parking permits are important to keep up with, or food trucks can face tickets, fines, or even the risk of being banned from certain high-traffic areas or events.
How to Get a Parking Permit
Before parking your food truck and starting to sell, look up local parking permit requirements on the city or town website.
How Much Does a Parking Permit Cost?
Parking permits can be free, or cost up to a few hundred dollars depending on the event, location, or time.
Licenses and Permit Laws in the US
Here are some examples of food truck business requirements in different states in the U.S.
Food Truck Licenses and Permits in Massachusetts
Mass.gov includes a helpful website from the Food Protection Program that outlines the requirements to comply with state regulations for mobile food establishments (MFEs), or food trucks.
New food truck businesses can review requirements based on which activities they’ll perform on the food truck, and access the applications and documents they need to get started. In Massachusetts, food trucks need specific local permits to operate their MFE approved by the local board of health. Luckily, for some areas, these can be issued once, and are valid for many years.
Food Truck Licenses and Permits in California
To become a mobile food vendor in California, take a look at the LA County Public Health resource for new mobile food facilities.
New food truck establishments in California need to complete the following requirements:
- Obtain a public health permit/license
- Display “no smoking” signage
- Pay for mobile food facility permits
- Pass a mobile food facility inspection
Ready to get on the road?
To get a food truck up and running, you should be prepared to spend upwards of $1,000 to cover licensing costs, inspections, and fees. Once your business plan is completed, you’ll be ready to tackle restaurant startup costs and start filling out applications for permits. This can take a few months, so plan ahead.
A solid business strategy should include everything, from a strong brand identity and company culture to a reliable food truck tech like a POS.
Use our free food truck business plan to walk through every part of the planning and development process, then review your local requirements for food truck establishments. Look at city, county, state, and federal regulations for your type of food truck business, and be extra careful with alcohol requirements and heavy traffic areas, as that’s where the fines will be the highest.
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