There are many ways to launch a packaged food brand, food business or restaurant in Austin, Travis County, Texas and the certifications, permits, licenses and inspections required are set in stone. It can be challenging to maneuver the rules of the City of Austin Environmental Health Services Division's Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services (aka Health Department -- why don't they just call it that?!?). Over the years, people have really struggled with the steps required to start or operate a food business because the information the City puts out isn't clear and often old and outdated applications are still on their website and never taken down. This is VERY frustrating They use "government speak" to explain things and often when you call them you will get conflicting and even inaccurate information. Instead of faulting them too much, we'll just move on and I'll explain it in straight-forward terms.
First of all, if you are going to manufacture (make) your own products to sell in retail (such as a grocery store) or wholesale (such as a coffee shop or cafe) you have to have a permit. This permit is issued by the Health Department and is called a Food Establishment Operating Permit. The cost of this permit is dependent on what level of hazardous food you are manufacturing/making. So, for all practical purposes, we are not going to list those rates but they can be found here. Unfortunately, you will not know what your permit will cost until an inspector puts you into a category. This makes it very difficult to budget or estimate your startup costs. I believe this is a disservice to those launching a food business. But, I digress.
Furthermore, in order to apply for this permit you need to have your company formation documents such as an LLC, LP, Corporation or Proprietorship. General Liability Insurance is something else you will want to obtain before beginning any production but I'll cover this in another blog post.
In order to get a permit you must have some knowledge about how to handle food safely. So, you need to be 'certified'. You would obtain a Food Handler's OR Food Manager's Certification. What's the difference? Well, if you are the owner of the company and you will be manufacturing your products then you need the Food Manager's Certificate. That is a 4-hour course with a test attached. Upon completion you will be generally knowledgeable about food safety. Your employees will need the Food Handler's Certification. That's about a 30-minute course with a test attached. Your employees will gain basic knowledge of food safety. Once this certification is achieved then you must submit that information to the City of Austin and receive THEIR certificate to hang on the wall in your kitchen/production facility.
Once you have filled out an application for the Food Enterprise Permit you will be also need to pay for an inspection. This inspection is called a Change of Ownership Inspection. In my opinion, this is such a misleading term. It would make more sense for them to call it an Initial Inspection. Instead, they call your 1st inspection, after the Change of Ownership Inspection, the Initial Inspection. You do not have to pay for that 2nd inspection or any of the inspections that will follow in the lifetime of your business. The fee and application is here and I see that they are at least now using the phrase "Pre Opening Inspection". I like to think it's possible they added this language after I complained to them consistently for about 8 years!
If you are manufacturing a product you will need a Food Manufacturer's License from the State of Texas. Examples of the types of businesses who need this license are here. The application for this license can be found here. This license is not very expensive if you are a startup or small company and it will need to be renewed every two years.
Let's review so that you can easily see what is typically needed when you are launching a food or beverage brand or if you are moving one into the area AND you will be self-manufacturing your products. If you are using a co-packer then the only item on this list you need, if it a Texas brand, is the Food Manufacturer's License issued from the State of Texas.
Step One: Certification Food Manager's Certification (course, test AND City of Austin
issued certification document to hang on wall)
Step Two: Permit Food Enterprise Permit (fee) AND Inspection (fee) issued by
the City of Austin/Travis County Environmental Health Services
(aka Health Dept.).
Step Three: License Food Manufacturing License (fee) issued by the State of Texas
Regarding FDA requirements, your company or the facility you are working out of, are required to register with the FDA. There is no fee to register and it's a simple process. To find out more about the who/how/why on this subject go here.
A company has responsibility to safely prepare and manufacture foods being served to the public. Cottage Food Industry laws are clear and specific and ONLY for certain foods which are being sold directly to the consumer and NOT to a retailer. To learn more about the specifics go here.
I hope this is helpful information. Remember, launching a food business is like starting any business...there are startup and overhead costs and you should have a significant amount of funds in a business account to get going. Good luck!