Proper Food Permits Ensure Public Health & Safety
When you purchase a meal from a food truck or enjoy catered food at an event, do you stop to consider whether the business has the proper food permits?
The California Retail Food Code (a section of California Health and Safety Code) is the section of state law that regulates retail food sales in California. It requires that food that is sold, distributed or given away to the public be prepared in and sold from a permitted food facility.
But, as Kendra Wise with the Santa Barbara County Health Department notes, the permit is more than just a piece of paper.
“The most important part of the permit isn’t the piece of paper – it’s the health inspection, education and regulatory support that Environmental Health Services provides to permitted facilities,” explains Wise. “During these inspections, our staff helps business owners/managers understand the food safety requirements in the state law, and helps them evaluate, develop and maintain systems that keep food safe. We are partners with our business community as we work together to keep the food in our community safe. Health permit fees fund this essential work.”
Martin and Debi Testa, who own Testa Catering, agree that having the proper permitting is critical for their industry.
“If we did not have any regulations on how food is handled it could put a great number of people at risk,” the Testas said. “Making sure food is refrigerated correctly, stored, prepped, and transported properly is imperative.”
Regulations food vendors are required for follow include purchasing their food and ingredients from a licensed vendor, transporting food under refrigeration, and making sure that food is received at a facility that is permitted by the Health Department and the City.
The Testa’s have seen and heard about the dangerous outcomes that can happen as a result of not adhering to health and safety guidelines. A recent incident they heard about occurred at a wedding in Paso Robles, where an unlicensed caterer caused 11 guests at a wedding to go to the hospital because off salmonella.
The Chrystal Trenado, co-owner of Cubanissimo restaurant and food truck explained another instance they heard about where 3 people who contracted Hepatitis A from an unlicensed SLO food caterer.
With so much at risk, why do vendors sometimes operate without a permit? A big factor is the cost, and process involved in getting proper permits.
“For us, the process of staying properly permitted is pretty involved,” Martin and Debi Testa explained. “We have a permit with the Health Department for food handling. We have a permit with the Fire Department for our hoods and indoor BBQ. We have a permit with the Building Department for construction. We have a permit with the City for a Business License. All of these permits required us to present a plan, have the plan approved, pay the permits, and have the inspections done. And all have a annual fee associated with them.”
The Testas say one of the biggest issue they see is food vendors not having a proper licensed commercial kitchen.
“If the vendor does not have a commercial licensed kitchen to receive and prep food in, they cannot obtain the permit,” Martin and Debi explained. “This is why some catering trucks pay a restaurant to use their kitchen. Sometimes the food trucks actually do use the kitchen other times it is just a fee to say they do.”
The owners of Cubanissimo food truck agree lack of proper permits is an issue with some local food vendors.
“I’ve seen food trucks letting their waste traps just run from their vehicles, trucks without operating hand washing stations or running water, no sanitizer for cleaning equipment or utensils, etc,” Chrystal Trenado, co-owner of Cubanissimo, explained. “This endangers our community’s physical and environmental health.”
Public health isn’t the only issue with un-permitted food vendors. They can also undercut their competition and take business away from those who do carry the proper permits.
“When people go out and cater and they don’t have a license, they can undercut us as to the price as they don’t have the huge overhead and cost associated with getting these permits and having a state of the art, immaculate, regularly inspected Commercial Kitchen,” Martin and Debi Testa explained. “And the public is at risk because food has not been received, handled or transported correctly.”
To make sure the food vendors and caterers you use are properly permitted, the Testas say its as easy as asking for proof of paperwork.
“Make sure the vendor has a Business License, Health Permit, Food Handling Certificate, Liability and Workman Comp. Insurance,” they explained. “Any properly licensed vendor is happy to provide these as proof.”
If you are a food vendor or a local citizen with additional questions about proper food permitting, the Santa Barbara County Health Department offers great resources to get your questions answered.
“The focus of our organization is to protect public health. This single mission drives all the work we do,” said Kendra Wise with the Santa Barbara County Health Department. “Our staff specializes in working with the community to help ensure that the food we eat, the water we drink, and the places we live, work and play are safe and healthy. We are always happy to answer questions, provide information and support our local business community so that they can successfully comply with state law.”
For additional information, you can visit http://cosb.countyofsb.org/phd/environmentalhealth.aspx.