Is It Legal to Serve Food Without a Health Inspection? - Free Enterprise
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Is It Legal to Serve Food Without a Health Inspection?

If your small business serves food without a health inspection, what can happen?

Health inspection laws are intended to prevent businesses from serving food in unsafe or unsanitary conditions, but there may be some circumstances where an inspection sticker isn't necessary.

So when is it legal to serve food without a health inspection?

Health Inspection Generally

In most states, you cannot legally operate a business that serves food for pay without a permit or license from the state or local health department. A health permit is one of many a small business needs before it can even open its doors to customers.

In order to obtain (and maintain) a valid health permit, your business will have to arrange for an inspector to look at the premises. If for some reason the inspection goes poorly, a small business owner may not obtain a health permit and will not be able to serve food.

Certain Exempt Activities

That doesn't mean that all activities where food is sold require a health inspection. In many states, the following food sales are exempt from the health inspection regulations:

  • Charity bake sales. Non-profits, religious organizations, and schools typically do not need a health permit or inspection to sell their edible goods.
  • Farmers' market produce. Most farmers markets will allow farmers and others to sell agricultural goods without a health permit. So yes to eggs and eggplants, but not likely for your omelet cart.
  • "Cottage" food operations. There are some states and cities which will allow "cottage" businesses to sell a limited set of foods out of their homes or community events without a health inspection. You may still need to register the operation with the health department though.

This may not fit the description of your small business, in which case, you probably need to pass a health inspection and obtain a valid permit.

What If My Health Permit Expires or I Fail Inspection?

Employers who serve food should cease doing so if a failed inspection or expiration leaves the business with no valid health permit. You can easily be shut down for serving food or drinks without a valid health permit.

You don't have to close your doors forever. Your business can appeal the inspection or petition for a new inspection. An administrative attorney in your area can also help you negotiate with your local health department and get your business running again.

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