How to start a food business
Before you start
If you are starting a new, taking over or making changes to an existing food business, you will need to consider planning, building, and plumbing approvals.
Your first step when starting a food business is to check if you need planning approval.
Council’s planning scheme guides how land can be used and developed, including the suitability of a location for mobile food businesses and the type of home based food activities.
Food businesses may need planning approval for these activities:
- starting a new food business
- changing the type of activity (e.g. from office space to restaurant)
- re-establishing a food business that was abandoned
- changing the intensity of business (e.g. expand the kitchen into the dining room)
- changing the scale of an existing food business (e.g. adding outdoor coldrooms)
- carrying out building work (e.g. a fit-out of the kitchen)
- carrying out plumbing or drainage work.
To find out if you need to submit a development application, you can:
- lodge an enquiry with Council
- arrange a pre-lodgement meeting with Council
- engage a town planning consultant registered with the Planning Institute of Australia
- self-assess your property details against Council’s planning scheme.
Building work for a food business may include:
- fit-out of the kitchen
- adding an additional coldroom
- adding a new mechanical exhaust canopy.
All building work is assessed against the building assessment provisions (including, but not limited to, the National Construction Code and the Queensland Development Code) which set the minimum requirements for building structure, fire safety, access and egress, health and amenity, and energy efficiency.
To find out if you need building approval, you can:
Compliance certificates for building work
Assessable building work requires building approval from a building certifier. Sometimes the building certifier relies on advice from other people for assessing the design/specification and inspection of buildings.
The building certifier uses these forms to accept advice on assessable building work.
- Form 15 specifies the design and its limitations.
- Form 16 confirms the installation or construction meets the design.
Your building certifier will collect these forms if necessary.
During the licence application process, Council may ask for a Form 15 that certifies the design of a major component of your business (e.g. mechanical exhaust canopy), and a Form 16 to certify that the component was installed to the design specification.
Find out more about Forms 15 and 16.
Plumbing and drainage approval
Food businesses may need plumbing and drainage approvals for the following activities:
- release of trade waste to sewer
- installation and maintenance of backflow prevention devices
- use of non-reticulated water supply (tank water)
- installation of sinks.
Most plumbing and drainage work should be conducted by a licensed plumber.
Contact Council or your local water authority for more information.
Trade waste consent
Trade waste is liquid waste produced by a business, including mobile vehicles and temporary stalls. All businesses require consent from the local water authority to release trade waste to the sewer.
Cooking fats and oils from fryers are not trade waste. Do not release cooking fats or oils from fryers down any drain. Fats and oils need to be stored in separate waste oil drums and collected by a licensed waste transporter.
Some food businesses may also need pre-treatment and monitoring equipment (e.g. separators, interceptors, grease traps, or in-sink or in-drain baskets) before discharge to sewer.
The property owner or tenant (depending on the lease agreement) is responsible for organising trade waste consent including the installation of any pre-treatment equipment.
Contact Council or your local water authority for more information on trade waste consent.
Backflow prevention devices
Backflow prevention devices stop sewage flowing back through to the town’s water supply. There are two different types of backflow prevention devices, testable and non-testable.
All food businesses connected to town water require a non-testable backflow prevention device. A licensed plumber can install a non-testable backflow prevention device for you.
Food businesses with a pre-treatment device will need to have a testable backflow prevention device. A testable backflow device must be:
- installed by an endorsed backflow plumber
- registered with Council by the endorsed backflow plumber
- inspected or tested annually by a licensed plumber.
Contact Council or your local water authority for further information on backflow prevention devices.
Non-reticulated water supply
Reticulated water is drinkable water supplied by the local water authority. Non-reticulated water is any other water you have access to (e.g. rainwater, groundwater from wells or bores, or greywater from baths, sinks, washing machines, and other kitchen appliances).
A food business with access to town water (reticulated water) must use town water for food handling activities.
If your food business does not have access to town water, you will need to demonstrate the water you use is safe. This normally means you need to chemically treat or heat treat the water. Find out how you can safely use non-reticulated water in food handling.
Some local governments require the use of rainwater or greywater systems for new buildings. A list of participating local governments is available from the Department of Housing and Public Works.
A food business can also use rainwater or greywater (or other non-reticulated water) for a range of non-drinking and non-cooking purposes, including flushing toilets, gardening, or as cold water for washing machines.
The installation of a non-reticulated water supply must meet the requirements of the Queensland Development Code MP 4.3 – Supplementary Water Sources. A plumbing approval is not required to use rainwater or greywater in your building, but your plumber will need to notify the Queensland Building and Construction Commission. Your plumber will provide you with a copy of the notification.
You may need planning or building approval for storage tanks larger than 10m², or if the tank is located in a cyclone area.
Contact Council or your local water authority for more information on non-reticulated water supply approvals.
How to apply
Applications can be submitted (with the relevant fee) in person at Council offices or by surface mail.
The applicant for an approval must be a legal entity (e.g. person/s or company. Note - a trust name, business name or shop name is not a legal entity and cannot be the approval holder).
The applicant must also be a suitable person. When Council assesses an application, they will take into consideration whether the applicant has the appropriate skills and knowledge to sell safe and suitable food, if they have had a previous conviction for a relevant offence, and if they have had a previous food licence suspended, cancelled or refused.
A new application is not required for minor changes (e.g. a change of contact details). Contact Council for these changes. Find out how to make other types of changes to an existing licence in this section.
Use this information to assist you in ensuring your application is complete and to consider other applications that may be required for your business.
You need to complete the food business licence application form and pay the fee. Application forms are available from Council.
Applications can be submitted (with the relevant fee) in person at Council offices or by surface mail.
You need to prepare plans of your food business and submit these to Council. For mobile and fixed premises, your plans should include:
- site plan
- floor plan
- sectional elevations
- mechanical exhaust ventilation plan (if applicable).
Temporary food businesses need to provide plans detailing equipment (including hand wash facilities) and storage.
You can download example plans for:
- fixed food business (PDF, 106.38 KB)
- mobile food vehicle (PDF, 59.63 KB)
- temporary food stall (PDF, 132.75 KB).
Queensland Health's design and fit-out guide for food businesses provides detailed information and can help you understand the requirements of fixed and mobile food business. The artist impression of the minimum standards for the operation of temporary food stall (PDF, 1.52 MB) provides information on the requirements for food stall operators. Council will assess the information you have submitted and let you know if further information is needed. Your application will be assessed for compliance with the Food Act 2006 and the Food Safety Standard 3.2.3 - Food Premises and Equipment.
If you have a fixed or mobile business, after your design is approved by Council, you can begin construction. Contact Council to arrange a date and time for final inspection at least one week prior to your opening date.
The process for obtaining a food business licence varies between councils. All councils will assess the design of you premises through design plans and your suitability to operate a food business. Some councils need you to submit your design before you submit your food business licence application. Contact council to find out what is the case for your location.
Major Refurbishment to Existing Premises
Refurbishments to existing premises that involve gutting the premise or removal or alteration to floor, canopy, ovens, cool room etc require a Food Business Amendment as it changes the conditions of the licence. Provide as much information as possible at time of lodging the application. Environmental Health have 30 days to approve application.
Minor Alterations to Existing Premises
Minor alterations could involve refurbishments to benches or minor additions. Provide as much information as possible at time of lodging application. Environmental Health have 30 days to approve application.
If the Licensee has changed, two separate Food Business Licence Forms must be completed, one by the current owner to surrender their licence and one by the new owner to transfer the licence into their name/company.
A Transfer Application is applicable if the following applies:
- The existing Licence is current, and
- the business has not been closed for more than 28 days, and
- the current owner has completed the Food Business Licence Form to surrender their licence
If all the above is not applicable a new Food Business Design Approval Form is required.
Application process - making changes
This process is for making changes to an existing food business.
Adding extra facilities or renovating your premises could change current planning, building and plumbing approvals. Contact Council to discuss any changes to your premises prior to the commencement of work.
- Submit your food business application and plans to Council using the approved form. You are responsible for ensuring the application is complete.
- Council will process your application and plans within the legislative timeframe. Council will contact you should additional information be required to process the application.
- When Council approves your plans, you may begin the fit out. Your building certifier and licensed plumber will advise if any building or plumbing approvals are required.
- Upon completion of the fit out, you must contact Council for an inspection prior to commencing operations.
- When Council approves your application, you can then operate in accordance with the approved conditions.
Other food business licence requirements
Food safety supervisor
All licensable food businesses must have a food safety supervisor. You can notify Council of your food safety supervisor with your food business licence application. If not, you need to do this within 30 days of your licence application being approved.
Food safety program accreditation
If your food business involves catering or prepares and serves food at a child care centre, private hospital, aged care or palliative care facility, you will need to submit a food safety program for accreditation at the same time as you submit your food business licence application. Learn more about food safety requirements.
Home based food business requirements
If you want to start a home based food business, Council will assess your application on a case by case basis to check if food can be produced safely in your home. There are some food safety issues to consider.
- Food storage – food for your business needs to be separate from household food.
- Equipment storage – equipment needs to be stored so it is protected from contamination, for example, from pests such as cockroaches and mice. Find out more about pest management (PDF, 34.83 KB).
- Transport and delivery – if you are picking up or delivering cold potentially hazardous food, you need to transport it below 5⁰C. It is recommended you use a chilled esky. Hot food needs to be transported above 60⁰C.
- Cold food storage – potentially hazardous food needs to be stored below 5⁰C. Council will assess if you have enough refrigerator space for both your business food and household food. Find out more about temperature control.
- Frozen food storage – frozen food needs to be stored frozen to the touch and in accordance with the directions of the packaging. Council will assess if you have enough freezer space for your business food and household food.
- Electricity supply – your electricity supply needs to be able to power all of your appliances while you are cooking.
- Cooling – if you are cooking and cooling food in bulk, you need to have enough room in your refrigerator to cool the food in smaller containers. Find out more about cooking and cooling potentially hazardous food (DOC, 122 KB).
- Cleaning – all surfaces and equipment that have contact with food need to be cleaned and sanitised. Queensland Health’s Cleaning and sanitising (Word 892KB) has more information. You will need a chemical sanitiser and a domestic dishwasher. A domestic dishwasher needs to:
- have a properly functioning temperature activated sanitising cycle that must sense 65.6⁰C or higher before the machine advances to the next step or
- if it does not have a sanitising cycle or time-controlled sanitising cycle and forced airflow drying– be operated with inlet water temperature above 68⁰C.
- Hand washing – you need hand wash facilities with warm, running water and soap and paper towel.
- Children and pets – you need to exclude young children, pets and people who are sick from the food preparation area, when your are preparing food for the business.
- Labelling – food that is packaged for retail sale needs to be labelled. Queensland Health’s Label buster (PDF 1MB) has more information on labelling requirements.