What Permits are Needed for a Food Truck?

/ Food Trucks & Pop-Up Restaurants, Foodservice Tips / January 30

red food truck-what permits are needed for a food truck

It might be tempting to approach starting a food truck business with a pedal-to-the-metal mentality, especially if you’re trying to roll in just in time for the local fair. But before you get to driving around in your taco mobile, there are a couple of not-so-exciting things you’ll have to check off your to-do list. These include ensuring your food truck is street-legal and has the necessary permits and licenses.

So what permits are needed for a food truck? How much do they cost? What do you need to do beforehand? How long do they last? And how long will it take to be approved? Instead of trying to decipher pages upon pages full of legal jargon from your state’s government website, we’ll give you a simplified, yet comprehensive rundown of the food truck licenses and permits you can expect to apply for.

Business License 

A business license is an umbrella term that often encompasses many different licenses. How many you’ll need will depend on the type of business and whether it could pose a public health and safety risk. Because food can be dangerous if not properly handled, the foodservice industry is highly regulated. Unfortunately, a food truck business requires several licenses just to get rolling.

Also, be aware that you’ll need to apply for a separate business license for your food truck, even if it’s an extension of an already existing restaurant. We’ll get more into what permits are needed for a food truck below. 

  • Food truck business license cost – ~$25-$500

  • Waiting time – Days to months 

  • Renewal frequency – Annually, every couple of years or never 

Employer Identification Number 

Opening a truck requires an Employer Identification Number (EIN), also known as the Federal Employer Identification Number or the Federal Tax Identification Number. Like a social security number, an EIN is how the government keeps track of businesses for taxation purposes. 

If you’re opening your mobile food truck as an extension of a pre-existing business, you do not need a new EIN number. However, you will need to start your food truck permit application through the IRS if it doesn’t fall under the criteria laid out here.

  • EIN Cost – Free

  • Waiting time – Immediately (online), 1 week (fax), 2 weeks (no return fax number), 4-5 weeks (mail)

  • Renewal frequency – None 

Seller’s Permit & Wholesale Certificate 

A seller’s permit is often needed to open a food truck. It allows businesses to collect sales tax on behalf of the government. A wholesale certificate is often doled out along with a seller’s permit and exempts your business from having to pay sales tax on inventory. This allows your business to buy the goods for your service at a wholesale price while ensuring that nothing gets double-taxed.

If you’re unsure whether your business requires a seller’s permit, you can contact the Department of Revenue–which, as it turns out, is where you can also apply for one.

  • Food Truck Permit Cost – ~$20

  • Waiting time – 7-10 business days 

  • Renewal frequency – Every two years for ~$10

Food Truck License

It goes without saying that you’ll need a valid license plate, but check your local laws. Next, you may even need to register your truck as a commercial vehicle, depending on the state you live in and if your vehicle exceeds 26,001 pounds. If that’s the case, your employees will also need a commercial driver’s license to legally operate the vehicle.

Don’t forget to make sure that all stickers and signage are clearly displayed as outlined by your city’s health department. Cops will be on the lookout for food vendors who are in violation, so be sure to verify that your truck and its drivers are correctly registered before taking to the streets. 

  • Food Truck license cost – ~$100-$250

  • Waiting time – ~2-6 weeks 

  • Renewal frequency – ~1-5 years

business owner applying for a food truck permit-what permits are needed for a food truck

Parking Permit

Some towns and cities have local parking restrictions that apply to food trucks. Next, you’ll want to double-check which, if any, of these mobile food truck requirements are in effect, lest you want to get ticketed or, worse, lose your license. How long you can park, what times of day, where you can sell and how often are commonly regulated by the city.

  • Food truck parking permit cost – ~$500-$1000 (Additional cost might apply for event parking)

  • Waiting time – Days to weeks 

  • Renewal frequency – Some areas or events require daily parking permits while in others you can purchase monthly or yearly passes. 

Food Handler’s Permit 

Since improperly washed or cooked food can pose a public health risk, most states require at least one or all of your employees to complete food handler training or obtain a food manager’s permit. The good news is that employees and managers can be certified in a matter of hours with a state-approved online course.

  • Food truck food handler permit cost – $5-50 

  • Waiting time – Immediately 

  • Renewal frequency – 2-5 years

Health Department Food Truck Permit 

Any business that provides a service or good that could potentially transmit disease will need a health permit issued by their local Health Department. This food license intends to prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses through the inspection of your cleaning and sanitization process, equipment holding temperatures, food preparation practices, water storage tanks, handwashing sinks, etc. 

  • Health department food truck permit cost – ~$100-$1,000

Food Peddler License  

You can’t just set up shop on the side of the road and not expect your licenses and permits to get checked by local law enforcement, especially if you’re new to the area. As far as food truck regulations go, you’ll most likely need a food peddler’s license or a mobile food vendor permit to monetize a food cart, food truck or towed food truck within county lines.

Contact your city clerk’s office or submit an application online. Just keep in mind you most likely have to provide supplemental information, such as a business license application, plan of operation and an itinerary.

  • Mobile food vendor permit cost – ~$200-$300

Special Event Permit 

Just because you have all the permits needed for a food truck doesn’t mean you can show up shredding rubber at a local festival. Because these are high-revenue events, the city usually limits the number of vendors to prevent congestion. Lastly, remember to apply well in advance to secure your spot.

Fire Safety Permit 

Finally, if your food truck uses propane, diesel or natural gas lines, you should pencil in a fire safety inspection in your planner. They usually entail a fire safety class to be attended by the owner and employees and an onsite inspection of the truck by fire safety personnel. 

  • Food truck fire safety permit cost – ~$100-150

There are other permits and licenses you might need based on the type of food and drink you’re selling, such as a liquor license, ice cream vendor license, catering permit and a retail seafood truck permit. You should check with your local and state governments for what permits are needed for your truck business.

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