License to serve

By the Marquette County Health Department Environmental Health Staff

It’s that time of year again. Summer events are starting and temporary food vendor stands are opening. In Michigan, people providing any food to the public (free or for sale), are required to have a food service license. There are several food licenses available and the type of license needed depends on the operation and menu being offered. This article will address temporary food licenses. Michigan’s Food Law defines a temporary food establishment as “a food establishment which operates at a fixed location for a temporary period not to exceed 14 consecutive days.” A food service license is not transferable from place to place; permits are for a specific location. Moving to another site requires another temporary license for the new location.

In order to provide food at a temporary location, a kitchen is required to be established. This temporary kitchen falls under the same rules as a fixed establishment, but the rules are a bit more flexible for a temporary food service operator. All kitchens are required to have a close, easily accessible, handwashing sink. For a temporary event, a portable handwashing station can be created utilizing a container with a spigot, a five gallon bucket to collect greywater, soap and paper towel. All dishes and utensils will need to be washed, rinsed, sanitized and air dried. Wash tubs work great for this. Another important step is the use of test strips for monitoring the sanitizing solutions. Test strips are specific to the sanitizer being used. If using chlorine (bleach) for sanitizing, you will need chlorine test strips. Generally speaking, chlorine test strips turn a purple/blue color. The other common sanitizer is quaternary ammonia, and these test strips turn a green color. Remember to read the labels when using sanitizers mixed with water. Solutions should be mixed in accordance with the manufacturers’ recommendations. Note that there is a difference in the sanitizing concentration used for food contact services and non-food contact surfaces.

The remainder of the kitchen depends on the items on the menu. For example, an event serving hot dogs and hamburgers requires temperature control during the event (hot and cold holding). The hot dogs and burgers will need to be kept cold (41 degrees F or less) during the event before they are cooked. Refrigeration units or coolers with ice are accceptable. If the burgers and hot dogs are not served immediately after cooking, they need to be kept hot (135 degrees F or more). Options for hot holding are chafing dishes, crock pots, or leaving them on the grill immediately after being cooked. In addition, burgers and hot dogs require buns, which are considered a ready-to-eat food. The Food Law does not allow bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods. To prevent bare-hand contact, use single use gloves and/or utensils while handling these foods.

All waste water generated during the event (from hand washing and dish washing) needs to be collected and disposed of in an approved sewage system. Any water used (for washing/sanitizing dishes, used during food prep, etc.) needs to come from an approved source, such as a municipal drinking water supply. Please note, your private water well is not an approved water supply for the public.

Fees for temporary food licenses vary among health departments across the state. Michigan Food Law requires that an individual make application for a temporary food service license a minimum of 30 days in advance of the proposed food service event. The Marquette County Health Department will receive applications within less than the requires 30 days, but fees vary accordingly. Fees also vary depending on the menu and scope of the operation. Michigan’s Food Law was amended in 2016, creating a low risk food category. “Low-risk food means any of the following: (i) Raw or prepackaged food that is not potentially hazardous food (time/temperature control for safety food). (ii) Potentially hazardous food (time/temperature for safety) that is prepared in a licensed facility and is not prepared on-site. (iii) Commercially processed potentially hazardous food (time/temperature control for safety food) that is fully cooked and reheated only for hot holding.” A low-risk temporary food license issued by the Marquette County Health Department costs $33 for for-profit and $30 for non-profit establishments. An example of a low-risk, temporary food would be a hot dog stand, serving pre-cooked hotdogs. A pancake breakfast where batter is being mixed and then cooked or a spaghetti dinner where noodles are being cooked does not meet the low-risk food definition.

For establishments that do not meet the low-risk food definition, fees are as follows:

• On-site inspection during normal business hours: $55, nonprofit; $58, for profit

• On-site inspection on weekend or

   holiday: $85, nonprofit; $88, for profit

• Additional fee for applications received

   less than 30 days from the event: $25

The moral of the story is to plan out  events and apply for a temporary license at least 30 days in advance to get the least expensive rate. And remember, the temporary food service licensing and inspection requirements of Michigan Food Law exist to protect the health of the public, whether food is for sale, or distributed free of charge. Let’s all enjoy a healthy, happy summer.


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