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How to start a food business

James Watkins - Law on the Web

  1. 25 November 2015
  2. Business
  3. 0 comments
Food waitress

Starting any business is difficult, but if your business is to be a purveyor of grub, you have an extra set of pitfalls to avoid.

Here are some of the main things you will need to take care of when you are starting a food business. You can find more general information in our setting up a business section.

Registering the food business

Any business which conducts ‘food operations’ must be registered with the local council at least 28 days before operations get underway.

The punishments for failing to register a food business are severe indeed – you could face up to two years in prison.

The definition of ‘food operations’ is quite broad, covering everything cooking and preparing food to just selling or distributing it. If you aren’t sure whether you will need a licence, contact your local council.

You will need to register every premises that you carry out the food operations in – for example, if you prepare food at home and then sell it from a van, you will most likely need to register both your home and the van.

Working with meat or dairy products

If your business deals with any food which comes from animals, you will likely need to have your premises inspected and approved by the council.

This includes meat and dairy products, as well as fish and eggs.

There are exemptions from the requirement for food premises approval – for example, if you sell your products directly to the consumer, and you don’t sell food outside the county in which the business is registered.

However, you can only be exempt if food sales account for less than 25% of your business, which, considering you are reading a post specifically about starting a food business, seems unlikely.

Food licences

There are a number of different licences associated with different food activities – depending on what your business does, you may need to do more than just register with the council.

Here are a few examples of licences that your food business might need:

  • a street trading licence, if you are selling food from a street stall
  • a personal licence to sell alcohol, if you are to sell alcohol at your restaurant
  • a market stall licence, if you are operating a market stall
  • a licence to import live fish or shellfish from within the EU, if you are doing this

You may need licences for other activities related to the business – for example, you will need a PRS licence to play background music in your restaurant.

Depending on how you are marketing your business, you may also need a licence to hand out leaflets or put signs on the pavement or street.

The government’s own website has a useful service for finding the licences you will need for your activities – you can find it here.

Food safety regulations

Food safety and hygiene is obviously a critical concern for any business that handles food. These are the main things to consider regarding food safety regulations.

Make sure the food is safe

Your business’s most straightforward concern in this matter would be to make sure that the food you provide is safe to eat, and that it is prepared in a safe way (no undercooked chicken, for example).

If you discover that food is unsafe once it is already on sale, you must withdraw it from sale immediately. You will also need to complete an incident report on how you came to sell unsafe food and what steps you can take to avoid repeating this mistake.

Don’t mislead the customer

You should be as transparent as possible about your food, through your advertising and marketing and other representations to the public.

Your business should not mislead the public about the quality of the food, and if you have to withdraw a product from sale or recall it, you must take sufficient steps to inform the public (for example, through posters or leaflets).

Make sure you know where the food comes from

You must know where the food you sell has come from, lest you end up in some kind of Tesco horsemeat situation.

You can find out more about food safety and hygiene from the Food Standards Agency.


As with licensing, the type of insurance that you need will depend on the sort of food business you are running – for example, a sit-down restaurant will have different insurance requirements than an ice cream van.

Most, if not all businesses will require some form of public liability insurance, which covers the business if a customer or member of the public has an accident. You should also have employers’ liability insurance to cover yourself and any members of staff.

If your business operates out of a vehicle, you will need to get vehicle insurance to cover it. Vehicle insurance can cover you if the vehicle is damaged or stolen. You should also get insurance if you operate out of a trailer.

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