Events & Outdoor Food Service

Mobile Food Carts, Special Transitory Food Units & Temporary Food Licenses

This informational is intended to give you an overview of the different types of food licenses available for facilities operating either on a temporary basis or in a variety of locations, such as street or event vending.

Who needs a license?
Anyone who is preparing or serving food to the public needs a license, whether or not they are charging a fee for the food. Some examples include serving pizza, grilling hot dogs or squeezing fresh lemonade. Additionally, if you operate a licensed restaurant but are assembling or preparing foods outside or away from your licensed restaurant, you will need a license. If your menu is limited to prepackaged, shelf stable foods such as bagged potato chips, wrapped candy bars or bottled soda, you do not need a license.

License Types

Besides a licensed restaurant, there are three types of food service licenses for serving food at events. These license types include a Temporary Food Licenses, Mobile Food Carts, and Special Transitory Food Units (STFUs).

Choosing the Right Type of License:

  • Are you planning to sell hot dogs seasonally or throughout the year in Washtenaw County? A Mobile Food Cart license is probably right for you.
  • Are you planning to sell a variety of foods throughout Washtenaw County and the state of Michigan? A Special Transitory Food Unit (STFU) license is probably right for you.
  • Are you planning on a one-time event or operating at only a few events during the year? A Temporary Food Service Establishment License is probably the best license for you.  

 

MOBILE FOOD CARTS

What is a Mobile Food Cart?
A mobile food cart is a limited food service operation that serves a limited menu, usually hot dogs, from a small open air push cart. Based on their limited facilities, mobile food carts are limited to foods or beverages requiring minimal handling on site and must return to an approved commissary at least once every 24 hours, such as a licensed food service establishment.

What are the requirements to open a Mobile Food Cart?
A mobile food cart must submit a plan review packet, including a plan review application, fee, menu, standard operating procedures, drawing/layout of cart, equipment specification sheets, and any other applicable items listed on the Food Service Plan Review page.

You must have your commissary complete the Mobile Food Establishment Commissary Verification Form. A mobile food cart must have the equipment and resources available to ensure food safety. Typically, this requires items such as a hand wipes, gloves, a sanitizer spray bottle and paper towels, a metal stem thermometer, methods of hot and cold holding of foods, and a method of covering and protecting food from customers and the elements. Additionally, a mobile food cart must have the name and address of the business operating the mobile cart on each side of the cart in letters not less than 3 inches high. Mobile carts are typically inspected once every six months by a Sanitarian.

 

SPECIAL TRANSITORY FOOD UNIT

What is a Special Transitory Food Unit (STFU)?
An STFU is typically an enclosed, carnival-type food wagon. These are fully functional restaurants on wheels. STFUs are licensed in one jurisdiction, but can travel throughout the state with proper notification. They may have a more complex menu than a mobile unit, but also have more sophisticated facilities.

What are the requirements to open a Special Transitory Food Unit?
An STFU must submit a plan review packet, including a plan review application, fee, menu, standard operating procedures, drawing/layout of unit, equipment specification sheets, and any other applicable items listed on the Food Service Plan Review page. At a minimum, an STFU must have an onboard water supply tank, including hot water heater, four sinks (3 for ware washing and 1 for hand washing), a wastewater disposal tank, and a generator. Depending on the proposed menu, mechanical refrigeration is typically required.

Once approved, an STFU must notify each county of when and where they will be operating using the Notification and Intent to Operate an STFU form. This form must be submitted to the local jurisdiction where you will be operating at least 4 business days before you operate. You must also submit and pay for 2 operational inspections during the licensing year of May 1 - April 30. The request for inspection and payment must be submitted at least 4 business days before the inspection is requested. Finally, you must submit a copy of your inspection to the licensing jurisdiction within 30 days of receiving the inspection.

 

TEMPORARY FOOD LICENSE

Temporary Food Licenses are the most common type of license for those that are preparing or serving food to the public on an infrequent basis. These licenses cover one-time events such as spaghetti dinner fundraisers, chicken broils, and grilling hot dogs for sale on a football Saturday. Licenses are valid for a maximum of 14 days of consecutive operation. Washtenaw County issues over 300 Temporary Food Licenses every year.

For more information, please see our Temporary Food Service Establishment Licensing page.

 

APPLICATION AND LICENSING

How long will it take to get my license?

For mobiles and STFUs, our staff will review your submitted plan review information within 30 days and respond in writing on the status of your proposal. Most times, the initial response will be less than 30 days and will require additional paperwork or information to be submitted prior to final approval.

For a temporary food license, we ask for you to apply at least 5 business days prior to your event. Your license will be issued after you pass inspection the day of your event.

How much does the license cost?

See Environmental Health Applications, Forms & Fees.

 

Where can I get more information?

Washtenaw County Environmental Health Division
(734) 222-3800

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