Food Truck Permits | The 4 Most Important Permits Needed
Having a food truck business can be fun and profitable, but adding fines that have to be paid because you parked somewhere you were not supposed to does not help your cause. Obtaining the right food truck permits and licensing is crucial to do business as a food truck.
Part of starting your own food truck business are obtaining the right food truck permits and licensing for where you operate. There are different rules and regulations for every county so making sure you have everything in place prior to selling is very important.
There are a variety of food truck permits and licenses required to operate a food truck. The most common are Business License, Vehicle License (License Plates), Seller’s Permit, Food Handler’s Permit, Health Department Permit, Fire Certificates, Parking Permit, and Commissary Permits.
In this article, we will dive deeper into each one of these permits and licenses with some examples of what the total cost for all these will be broken down so let’s get started.
As mentioned, there are different permits and licenses for each city and county so checking with your city and/or county administrator is required to find what food truck permits and licenses you will need and must be obtained before you open for business. Also note that depending on where you do business, you may need to either re-register or confirm you are still in business every year and may be expected to pay a fee each year. With that in mind, here are the most common food truck permits and licenses you will need:
Food Truck Permits and Licenses
Table of Contents
Let’s start with your business license as having the correct licenses are a crucial part to the business, but what is a business license for a food truck?
A business license is a permit which is issued by the state of which you want to do business in, allowing you to legally conduct business within that state.
Without having a business license, you can incur fines and will not be able to do business. Also, you will need to have a business license to be able to obtain certain things like a business bank account since most banks require a business license to open a business account.
Getting your business license is pretty easy. Just go to your state’s business portal. To find the business portal for your state, you can visit sba.gov and search your state which will then have a direct link to the state’s business website.
Vehicle License (License Plates)
When plating your food truck, you may need special license plates depending on what state you are doing business in and how much your truck weighs.
For example, if you live in Illinois and your truck weighs less than 8,000 pounds, you will be required to get B-Truck type license plates. You can see requirements and fees at Illinois’ Secretary of State website.
All states are different. For example, Georgia requires a D.O.T sticker if your truck is over 10,000 pounds. Otherwise, the truck requires regular license plates.
Look up your local Secretary of State for full details and requirements for your truck.
Since you will be selling food from your truck, you will most likely be taxed on it which means you will need a sellers permit. This permit is also known as a “sales tax” permit or “sales tax” license.
These permits are usually free, but may require a certain amount to be placed as a deposit in the even your food truck closes and there are unpaid taxes. This deposit will cover the unpaid tax amount. The amount will be determined from the state and will be provided at the time of inquiry or application. To apply for this permit, you can either call or go online to your local government’s website and apply.
Food Handler’s Permit
A food handler’s permit may not be required in the county you are selling in, but is important to look into.
I food handler’s permit is a permit which comes from training to increase your awareness of safe and proper food preparation. This training helps reduce the number of food-borne illnesses that may occur in the state, city or county you are doing business in.
This permit can be obtained online by taking an online course which is a few hours long. Once you complete the training, you will need to pass an exam and then you can print your permit out. The training costs between $7.99 and $9.99 depending on the state. You will need to pass with a score of 70%-80% depending on the state. You can learn more at the Premier Food Safety website and use the “Food Handler Card” menu link for your state.
Health Department Permit
A Food truck health permit is a permit to sell food and beverages which are cooked and/or served to the general public. These foods are regulated for public safety.
Since you are selling food, you are going to need this permit from the health department. This permit will state that you are legally allowed to sell food from your truck. Your truck will also be regularly inspected to ensure this safety.
During the inspections, areas like raw meat handling, hand wash stations and pest control are all in place and meeting standards. You can learn a great deal more from the Food Handler’s Permit section above. This training goes into greater detail.
You can visit the NACCHO website for a Directory of Local Health Departments which contains email and contact numbers.
So you have a licensed truck with the needed health permits. Now, where are you going to park? A food truck can’t just park anywhere they want and start selling. If this was the case, you would probably see food trucks in the busiest places and would cause congestion.
Every county has its own restrictions and parking regulations for food trucks. It’s your job to go to your local driving administration and find out the details about where you can and cannot park your food truck. They will provide you the information you need along with providing the needed food truck permits for parking in the counties you are doing business.
As a food truck, you may come across the regulation to prepare your food or park your truck at a commissary. Once again, every county will be different and you will need to contact your local administration to obtain the regulations for your business. However, one regulation you may encounter is the requirement to prepare your food at an approved commercial-grade commissary.
A commissary is a kitchen where you can prepare and store food for your food truck business. Some areas require that a food truck cannot prepare food on a truck and must be prepared in the commissary so reading these guidelines is necessary prior to opening your truck.
Common things to note about commissaries:
- They are rental spaces so you will need to look into the cost for these spaces.
- Many times they are shared spaces so you must book your time
- You can find local restaurants that may be able to accommodate your preparation needs during off-hours.
The cost of the permit is many times included in the food truck license, but may vary from state to state. For example, see what the City of Chicago includes for their food truck requirements under the “Health Consultation Requirements” section.
The last permit you will be required to obtain is the Fire Safety permit or certificate. This permit states you meet all requirements of fire safety on your food truck. To obtain the permit, you may need to:
- Pay a permit fee which can cost $100 and up depending on the location and permit needed
- Pay fees for the fire inspection of your truck which can run a few hundred dollars
- Need to get your truck inspected annually
Check with your local administration for the permit requirements and costs required for your truck.
All in all, no matter where you park your truck for business, you need to make sure you get the right permits and licensing to do business. You also want to make sure that you get the right inspections done by the fire and health departments. Last but not least, you want to make sure you keep all your food truck permits and licensing together in the event you get a surprise check by a health official. This way, you have everything all together and have no issues.
Best of luck in your business!