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28-May-2015

Opening a food cart stand: a legal how-to

There are several kinds of mobile food establishments that can be permitted in Nebraska. Mobile food establishments use temporary locations to sell food to the public. If an individual chooses to sell food that is not prepackaged, a permit from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA) Food Safety and Consumer Protection Focus (FSCP) Area is required.

There are different varieties of mobile food establishment permits. The NDA suggests that those who are interested in starting such a business contact their local NDA FSCP food inspector. The local food inspector works with individuals to determine what type of establishment might be best suited to the individuals’ needs. During their visit, the food inspector can review menus and provide guidance on how to meet the Nebraska Pure Food Act and the regulations in the Nebraska Food Code.

Once an individual determines the menu to be served, the next question is how often the mobile food establishment will be used. This determines what type of permit is required. A “mobile food unit” (often referred to as a food truck), for example, is a vehicle that is designed to be readily mobile and returns to a central location (commissary) for daily cleanup and service. A temporary food establishment is a mobile food establishment that is operated for a period of no more than 14 consecutive days in conjunction with an event or celebration (a fair, for example).

Individuals who plan on using a “mobile food unit” for one-day events will also need to have a commissary— where food, food containers or food supplies are kept, handled, prepared, packaged or stored, for use in the mobile food establishment.

After a decision is made on how the mobile food establishment is to be used, individuals can work to develop floor plans and actually construct the unit, taking into consideration the Nebraska Food Code guidelines. How the menu will be prepared will dictate what equipment is needed, including required ventilation. 

Local food inspectors can answer questions on what types of materials are best for the walls, floors and ceilings, and what type of sinks, plumbing, water source and water storage tanks are required. Local food inspectors are required to review plans before any of the actual construction begins.

An inspection takes place with the owner before the mobile food establishment is put into operation. Once the establishment meets the Nebraska Food Code, a permit can be issued. Permits are valid anywhere in Nebraska and the permit calendar runs from August 1 to July 31, with an annual renewal process.

Depending on the individual's location and where they plan to operate their mobile food establishment, a Food Handler Permit may be required for any employee working in the establishment.

There are many variables to a mobile food establishment and by working with the local food inspector, individuals can obtain answers to questions and receive guidance throughout the process. You can schedule an appointment with your local food inspector by calling NDA at 402-471-3422. Our staff will assist you in finding your local food inspector and their contact information.

Information can be found online at nda.nebraska.gov.


About the Author

Melva Ball
Nebraska Department of Agriculture
Melva is the Dairy and Food Program Manager for the Food Safety and Consumer Protection area of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.

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