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Events & Outdoor Food Service: Mobile Carts, STFU's & Temporaries

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 those foods.  Examples of foods requiring a license include serving pizza, hot dogs, or fresh squeezed lemonade at an event.  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. 

There are three types of food service licenses for serving food outside.  These license types include a Temporary Food License, Mobile Food Carts, and Specialized Transitory Food Units (STFUs).

Choosing the Right Type of License

  • Are you planning on a one-time event or operating at only a few events during the year?  
    A Temporary Food License is probably the best license for  you. A temporary food establishment operates at a fixed location for a temporary period not to exceed 14 consecutive days. Examples include a food booth at a fair/football game, a restaurant preparing food offsite, and a private organization serving food to the public. 
  • 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. A mobile food unit is an open air cart that has a very limited menu, limited facilities, and must work with a licensed commissary (such as a licensed restaurant). The mobile cart must return to their commissary at least once every 24 hours it is in operation.
  • Are you planning to sell a variety of foods throughout Washtenaw County and the state of Michigan? 
    A Specialized Transitory Food Unit (STFU) license is probably right for you. An STFU is typically an enclosed trailer with its own water supply and wastewater holding tanks. An STFU may have a more diverse menu than a mobile food cart, and it does not need to have a commissary.


For questions about food service licensing, please contact the Washtenaw County Environmental Health Division at 734-222-3800.

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