Why Do Businesses That Sell Food Need a Food License?

Tim Slawinski
Tim Slawinski, Food and Dairy Division Director Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

People shopping at a grocery store or eating out at a restaurant may notice the food license hanging on the wall from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD). This license is required to ensure each establishment has the appropriate set-up and is safely handling food in a sanitary manner. In order to obtain a food license, firms must pass an initial inspection. Risk-based inspection frequencies are then established for each firm and routine inspections are conducted.

MDARD partners with local health departments (LHDs) to issue licenses and conduct inspections. Foodservice establishments, such as restaurants and cafeterias, are inspected by LHDs. Retail stores and manufacturing facilities are inspected by MDARD. For firms that do a combination of activities, the predominance of business is used to determine which type of license the firm receives and who conducts the inspections. Licensing and inspections are an important part of ensuring all operations are keeping our food safe.

Most establishments proactively work to keep food safe. But, when things get busy, combined with staff shortages, supply chain issues, and other complications of running a business, conditions that lead to foodborne illness outbreaks can occur. The goal of MDARD and the LHDs is to ensure food businesses continue to keep food safety at the top of mind at all times.

MDARD also actively works to remove dangerous food products from the market through routine product sampling in the marketplace and laboratory testing for foodborne pathogens. The sampling program, along with complaint investigations and foodborne illness investigations sometimes lead to the identification of products that need to be removed from the market due to safety concerns. In those cases, MDARD works with federal partners at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and local authorities, as well as the businesses impacted by the issue, to prevent consumers from purchasing or consuming potentially hazardous foods that could make them sick.

MDARD has developed emergency action plans and procedures for food establishments in case of emergency situations that could negatively impact the safety of the food supply, including weather incidents, fires, and foodborne illness outbreaks, just to name a few. Together, we can reduce the risk and liability for food businesses and ensure a safe, wholesome food supply.

Considering selling small, pre-made or packaged food? Do you need a license?