The Board of Health

Retail Food Establishment Permits- Getting one and keeping one. by Wyman Philbrook

The Board of Health, Health Department or even Inspectional Services are the many names for similar offices that are responsible for issuing and regulating the permits for a retail food establishment. They may have jurisdiction for a town, a city or a county, but their role and purpose is the same. They issue permits (licenses) for new applications or the renewal of existing establishments.

They are tasked to inspect (monitor) a food establishment to insure that the license holder is meeting the laws & regulations that they agreed to as a condition for being issued the permit. When it is determined that an establishment based on an incident, inspection history or a significant number of non-compliance issues is not preparing & serving food under sanitary conditions to the public, the office has certain responsibilities and actions at their disposal. We will review the 3 main areas that these regulatory offices will interact with food service management.

Issuance of Permits

To get your initial permit you will need to have an application and a plan review if it is a new construction or renovation. As part of the process of having your architectural drawings reviewed for a building permit, you will also have the regulatory agency review your kitchen, dining facilities, loading dock and restroom layouts, materials, menus and equipment. Key concerns addressed during the plan review are:

  • Capability to clean & sanitize equipment/facilities
  • Sufficient refrigeration capacity based on customer volume
  • Sufficient number & easily accessible hand sinks
  • Flow of food
  • Air exchange
  • Proper drainage
  • Safe water supply
  • Exclusion of pests
  • Proper waste disposal
  • Proper lighting
  • Safe food delivery conditions

An existing facility that you may be taking over has already gone through the plan review process and unless you are considering major changes and renovations, the regulatory agency may waive this step. In some jurisdictions an older facility may have been “grandfathered” with an exemption for the current food code requirements, which will change when a new permit is issued to a new owner.

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When your plans have been reviewed they will either be accepted as is or with additional change requirements added before they will be approved. When plans are signed off and approved, any changes will require an additional review.

An opening date will be conveyed to the health department and a pre-opening walk-through inspection will be arranged. Ideally, this will take place before the retail establishment serves a single meal to the public, but staffing or scheduling issues may cause this initial inspection to come after opening. This initial walk-through is confirming everything in your application and your approved plans is accurate and meets the regulatory requirements. Your permit will normally be mailed to the establishment and will have the name of the establishment and the effective dates that the license is valid. In many jurisdictions, the designated name of the Person-in-Charge (PIC) will also be on the permit. Normal annual renewals will only require the submission of a fee and some form of verification that there are no major changes in the operation from the last permit timeframe.

Inspection & Monitoring

Your establishment will normally be designated by risk, based on your operation/customers and this will determine the number of inspections in a calendar year. Inspections are normally unannounced and are a snapshot of your operation during the time the official is on-site. You will receive a score based on major, minor non-compliance issues and a re-inspection may be scheduled based on the number and severity of the issues. Facility & equipment non-compliances may only require the notification to the department of when the issue is corrected.


When there are sufficient non-compliance issues on one inspection or typically an aggregate over the history of the retail establishment’s operation, a determination that a hearing is warranted may be made. The record of inspections and communications will be reviewed at the department and a letter to the permit holder will be drawn up and delivered. The letter will outline the reasons and the date and time of the hearing. The purpose of this is to determine whether to allow the establishment to continue to operate, the requirements that must be met to continue operation or to revoke the permit.

The permit holder is given the opportunity to contest an inspection, provide evidence that the non-compliance issues cited are invalid or unwarranted and provide corrective actions that are or will be instituted to bring the establishment into compliance. The members of the hearing will make a determination based on all of the facts presented. Next month we will be addressing the safety of the food delivered to your establishment.

Philbrook Food & Beverage Consulting & Training specializes in preparing food service establishments to address all food safety issues by assisting with the development of programs, staff & facilities. We offer customized on-site and public training in HACCP & Food Safety issues. Check out our class schedules and contact info at for more information.