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Whether or not you have the schooling or experience to work as a chef, if you want to start a cooking business where you prepare food and sell it to people, you must get the kitchen where the food is prepared licensed. You will also need to obtain an operations permit. Once you have received both of these, your kitchen is considered by your state to be a "food service establishment" and you are ready to begin cooking.
Food service establishment definitions vary
In most states, a food service establishment includes everything from vending machines to restaurants, cafeterias and even mobile food trucks. These must be licensed by your local health department before you can use them for your business.
Contacting your health department
Every state in the U.S. has its own health department, each with its own standards and requirements for licensing your kitchen as a food establishment. Many of the guidelines established by the state health department are based on federal guidelines outlined by U.S. agencies like the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture, OSHA and even the CDC. You will likely be directed to your town or county's local branch of the state health department.
Applying for a license
You will need to complete your state or county's application to operate a food service establishment whether you are opening a new cooking business, changing ownership, changing locations or changing your license type from temporary to permanent.
Every state's local health department sets its own guidelines for food service establishment fees. Generally you should expect to pay less than $100 yearly to apply and then to renew your license.
Getting an operating permit
Most states require an operating permit in addition to a food service license. To obtain this for your cooking business, you will likely have to create a written plan for local officials to review first. You will also need to schedule a site inspection for a local health department official to inspect your kitchen facility and issue you an operating permit. The inspection will certify that your kitchen and cooking business meets all state and federal guidelines.
Based in Charlotte, N.C., Virginia Franco has more than 15 years experience freelance writing. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications, including the education magazine "My School Rocks" and Work.com. Franco has a master's degree in social work with an emphasis in health care from the University of Maryland and a journalism degree from the University of Richmond.