The requirements for a catering business licence are similar worldwide in that all are designed to maintain food safety, albeit with a few nuances. Whether you intend to start a catering business in Australia, America or the UK, this article will assist you in meeting the authorities’ demands for a licence.
So, what licences are needed to start a catering business in this present age? We’ll answer this question in this post, focusing primarily on Australia. However, you may apply the same knowledge to obtaining a US or UK catering business licence.
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Do You Need a Licence to Start a Catering Business?
Yes and No — this ultimately depends on the country or state you operate in. On the one hand, some countries require licensing, even for home-based catering businesses. On the other hand, certain states exempt some entrepreneurs unless there’s a complaint filed against them by a customer or the authorities.
We’ll discuss the licence application’s critical components in this article, providing answers to many pertinent questions, some of which include:
- What knowledge is required of your staff to impress inspectors?
- How should you prepare the kitchen for quick approval?
- Which business details should you have ready for the authorities?
- What requirements are your staff expected to meet?
How Many Licences Do You Need for Your Catering Business?
How much is a catering licence, and how many do you need?
In the US, a catering licence costs anywhere from $100 to $1,000. In Australia, expect to spend $500–$1,000. You need just one licence in Australia, but acquiring it can be complicated, especially without proper guidance.
The Australian government recognises two types of catering businesses with different licence requirements, including:
- Caterers delivering all types of food straight to consumers
- Caterers preparing and pre-packaging foods for other businesses to re-sell to consumers
Both catering businesses must take specific steps to acquire a licence since all food regulations revolve around consumer safety. Again, this article focuses on Australia, but you may glean insightful knowledge from it regardless of where your catering business is located.
The Regulatory Bodies for Catering Businesses
Regulatory bodies for catering businesses differ from state to state.
In New South Wales (NSW), Australia, for example, if your business personally delivers food to the attendees of an event, you’re a retail food business and should forward your licence application to the local council. However, if you supply event organisers, restaurants, etc., responsible for public distribution, you’re a manufacturing food business and must apply for your licence to the NSW Food Authority.
Contact your associated regulatory body to know how much is the catering licence for your business type.
The Reason for Catering Licensing
In Australia, a set of laws (the Code) laid out by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) regulate all food businesses selling directly to consumers. These laws are designed to protect consumers from potentially harmful foods.
These laws are instituted to ensure catering businesses provide the right kinds of foods prepared in a safe environment, properly cooked and handled, and delivered in the safest way possible. This is why catering business laws are similar worldwide and almost identical to laws governing restaurants, cafes, and other retail food businesses.
Authorities want sufficient details on your operations, such as:
- the foods you intend to sell,
- how you’ll prepare them,
- where you will prepare them, and
- how you will deliver the food items.
This info enables them to assess the safety of the foods produced by your catering business for people/consumers. So, if you want quick approval at every stage of a licence acquisition process, be ready to provide satisfactory information on the aforementioned business aspects.
Preparatory Stages for Catering Licence Application
Let’s discuss the preliminary stages before you proceed to notify your local council. This is important since rushing to notify them of your business without adequate preparation will delay your approval. They must inspect your business and even interview you to issue a licence.
You’re advised to contact local authorities for further details, just in case some requirements weren’t in place when writing this piece. Moreover, authorities have up-to-date information at any time regarding catering obligations. This is especially important if you’re only interested in knowing what licences are needed to start a catering business at the moment but aren’t ready to kickstart the process immediately.
That said, this is what the licence application process looks like in Australia:
- Submit an application online or by mail.
- Pay your one-time application fee.
- Pay your first annual fee.
- Meet all food safety requirements.
- Prepare your business staff and environment for inspectors or auditors.
The First Step When Applying for a Catering Business Licence: Notifying Licensing Authorities
Notifying your local council or appropriate authorities to alert them to the existence of your business is the first step towards applying for a catering business licence. This can be done online or by mail, is free, and is a crucial step for those seeking info on how to start a catering business.
Notification is so essential that changes must reflect immediately on your records when you introduce a new cuisine, cooking process, etc. However, find out how much is the catering licence before notifying authorities.
You’ll get a reference number and password when you notify authorities. Ensure you safeguard it properly because you’ll need it for updating your business information. If you purchase an existing business, the owner should provide you with notification access so you can update it with your personal details and any business changes you decide to make.
The notification issue is so important that even fundraising events or local charities must notify the appropriate organisations of any food requiring temperature control that won’t be eaten on the spot.
How Quickly Can You Get a Catering Business Licence?
Again, using NSW, Australia as an example, the Food Authority will get back to you within 10 working days following your license application submission. This feedback usually contains an estimated timeframe for inspection/audit. The licensing process typically takes four weeks after inspection/audit unless more details are required after you notify authorities, in which case, the process can take several weeks.
Authorities can sometimes issue a licence before any inspections or auditing, but in most cases, your licence will be approved after an inspection. However, if some non-compliance is discovered during inspections or auditing, a licence can be revoked and the vetting exercise rescheduled.
For a fast-tracked licence approval process, focus on these three key things when expecting inspectors:
- The physical condition of the facilities
- Day-to-day operational processes
- Safe food skills and knowledge of staff
We’ll talk more about these in a bit.
Calculating Your Catering Business Licence Fee
In NSW, Australia, licence fee calculation is usually calculated with respect to the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) food handlers that engage in food handling. As a reference, an FTE working week equals 38 hours.
If you seek in-depth answers to the question, “how much is the catering licence for my business?” see Schedule 3 of the Food Regulation 2015.
Note: Always be sure to check with your local authorities whether you will need a separate liquor licence to sell alcoholic beverages (also known as catering authorizations).
What Are the Requirements for Catering Business Licence Approval?
We’ll list some key points here regarding hygiene. Still, you ought to consult the official materials provided by the Australian government to educate retail food businesses on what must be done in their business operations. Follow these instructions to the letter because these are what instructors and supervisors use when validating your business.
Here’s a rundown of some critical requirements:
- Adequate knowledge of food safety
- A food safety supervisor (FSS)
- Health and hygiene
- Premises construction
- Cleaning and sanitising
- Food handling controls
Knowledge of Food Safety
You need specific knowledge about recipes and food safety, personal hygiene, kitchen equipment, kitchen building and infrastructure, and food supervision. Having these qualities will speed up your catering business’s licensing process.
Anyone you employ in your business must have sufficient knowledge of their job, with particular emphasis on safety. No staff are allowed to work in a field where they have little or no knowledge, even temporarily.
The cook must know how to properly prepare every cuisine you offer so they’re adequately cooked. Regardless of what licences are needed to start your catering business, this requirement is mandatory for both wholesale and retail food businesses.
Food Safety Supervisor (FSS)
Any FSS you appoint for your catering business needs certification. The government accredits many training institutions to provide training and certification for FSS candidates. The important thing is to employ a certified food service supervisor deemed competent by a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) under the FSS program.
This subject has extensive detail, and this resource provides more detailed information.
In NSW, Australia, an FSS certificate expires five years after the issue date and needs renewal. The FSS employee has 90 days to do so by undergoing a recertification course; otherwise, they must retake the training.
So, you should look at the certificate of your to-be FSS employee, noting how long they have before mandatory renewal. This is because your catering business licence is open to termination 30 days after your FSS’s certificate renewal date.
Food Safety Supervisor Training
Food handlers training focuses on five major areas, including:
- Safe egg handling
- Allergen management
- Cleaning and sanitising practices
- Food Act offences
- COVID hygiene
Health and Hygiene
Health and hygiene relate to food handling by your employees —in essence, your staff shouldn’t contaminate food. Utensils for raw and ready-to-eat food must be separate; otherwise, they should be properly sterilised before serving food. You must also employ a food safety supervisor (FSS) to ensure public food is cooked and handled correctly.
Any employee who’s sick shouldn’t come near food in your kitchen, especially for health issues like diarrhoea or fever. Even those who receive treatment must wait at least 48 hours after symptom relief before handling food. This is imperative and a standard that must be met even after you’ve found out what licences are needed to start your catering business.
Here are some other key points to note when setting up your catering business premises in Australia:
- There should be enough space for storage and preparation.
- Hand-washing facilities should be automatic (not operated by hand).
- Hand-washing facilities must be close to food preparation areas (within a five-metre radius at least)
- Walls must be of solid construction (no stud walls are allowed).
- Service pipes and conduits must not be visible in the walls or floors and be distanced 25 mm from walls and 100 mm from floors and ceilings.
There may be other requirements in your area. Therefore, you should contact local authorities before starting construction or renovation work.
Cleaning and Sanitising
Every retail food business in Australia must follow the construction code for fitting out the business premises. Fittings, contact surfaces, storage equipment, and kitchen material must be kept clean. Garbage containers must be appropriately sealed and isolated from other equipment to avoid contamination and pest activities around your kitchen.
Food Handling Controls
You should put these measures in place for processing, receiving, displaying, storing, packaging, and transporting foods to catering events. The inspectors must be convinced that whatever ingredients you receive from suppliers are safely handled in your establishment. Packaging should also be food grade.
Frequently Asked Questions
What credentials do you need for catering?
You don’t need any academic qualifications/credentials to start a catering business. Provided you can meet the food safety requirement of your area, you can own a catering business.
What is a catering licence in California?
A catering licence is a government-issued document that proves you’re qualified to operate a catering business. In California, you’ll also need to obtain a caterer’s permit from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) if you intend to serve alcohol as part of your catering menu options.
How much does a catering licence cost in Florida?
A catering licence in Florida costs between $500 and $1,000, depending on the location of your business and a few other factors. This cost can change randomly, so you’re advised to contact the appropriate authorities in your area to know how much the process would cost at any given moment.
Can I run a catering business from home in Texas?
Yes, you can operate a catering business from your home in Texas; food business laws are quite permissive here. In the Lone Star State, you may start a home-based catering business without even notifying the local health department. This is an excellent means to save money as a new catering startup before moving operations to larger premises. However, you may be required to obtain a home occupation permit (otherwise termed a home business licence), costing anywhere between $50 and a few hundred dollars.
So, what licences are needed to start a catering business? No more than three for most countries. This article details the process of acquiring a licence for your catering business in Australia and provides much information on what entrepreneurs must know when trying to establish a catering business.
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