Mobile Food Facility Frequently Asked Questions

What is the definition of a mobile food facility?

According to the California Retail Food Code (CalCode) Chapter 2, Section 113831(a), “’Mobile food facility’ [MFF] means any vehicle used in conjunction with a commissary or other permanent food facility upon which food is sold or distributed at retail. ‘Mobile food facility’ does not include a ‘transporter’ used to transport packaged food from a food facility, or other approved source to the consumer.”

What is a permit to operate?

"’Permit’ means the document issued by the enforcement agency that authorizes a person to operate a food facility…” (CalCode, Chapter 2, Section 113851(a)) As the local enforcement agency for the State Retail Food Code, Sonoma County Environmental Health issues a permit for mobile food facilities including trucks, trailers, and carts.

Do I need a permit to operate any kind of mobile food facility?

CalCode Section 114381(a) states: “A food facility shall not be open for business without a valid permit.”

I am only selling drinks (e.g., coffee, tea, hot chocolate), do I still need a permit?

Yes. Beverages are considered food and a permit is required. Selling beverages comes under "Limited food preparation" under CalCode Section 113818(a)(6):Juicing or preparing beverages that are for immediate service, in response to an individual consumer order, that do not contain frozen milk products.” Espresso and/or coffee carts must comply with the same structural requirements as a limited cooking cart or truck.

How do I get a permit?

You must pay your appropriate fees prior to obtaining an appointment for the structural inspection that may result in a permit being issued by Sonoma County Environmental Health. You must also obtain a business license from the county, city or cities where you plan to operate. Other supporting documentation required along with your completed application and the appropriate fee :
  • Copy of valid current vehicle registration
  • Completed route sheet
  • Completed commissary agreement
  • Restroom agreement, if necessary
  • Written operating procedures (required for carts)
  • Food safety manager certification

Do I need other permits as well?

Yes. If you are doing new truck construction or remodeling, you will need to contact the State Housing and Community Development Department (HCD) at 916-255-2532 for an inspection to meet California construction standards. Once an HCD insignia has been issued, you may call Sonoma County. In addition, you will need to obtain a business license from the city or cities where you plan to operate. You may also need a seller's permit from the State Franchise Tax Board.

Where can I operate my mobile food facility in Sonoma County?

Contact your local government zoning or business licensing department, as each city or unincorporated community may have different regulations. You may also choose to operate under a permitted sponsor at a special event, such as a County Fair, Street Fair, Farmer's Market or other sponsored event such as "Off-the-Grid." The event-type operations require approval from the event sponsor.

How much does a permit cost?

There are several different types of permit fees depending on the type of unit and menu. Rates may vary in any given year. See fee schedule for current fees. There are also fees for re-inspections and follow-up inspections.

I already have a permit for one truck. Do I need a separate permit if I want to operate a second truck with the same menu?

Yes, every truck is considered a separate business and must have their own inspection and permit fees. The trucks may have the same names followed by a number as the identifier (e.g., Pasta Plate #1 & Pasta Plate #2).

Can I consult with Environmental Health staff before I embark on my new MFF business?

We are more than happy to consult with you on your business plan, food menu, equipment needs, etc., but we ask that you have a well thought out plan before requesting a consultation. A fee will be charged for an office consultation. Due to the high volume of consultation and plan review requests, please allow ample time for plan review of your new or remodeled mobile food facility, as well as time for your initial truck or cart inspection.

I want to barbeque. What am I allowed to do?

CalCode Section 113843 defines "’Open-air barbeque’ as: a piece of equipment designed for barbecuing food, where the food is prepared out of doors by cooking directly over hot coals, heated lava, hot stones, gas flame, or other method approved by the department, on equipment suitably designed and maintained for use out of doors, that is operated by a…mobile food facility that remains fixed during hours of operations at a community event or permanent food facility.” Solid fuel such as wood or charcoal must be located outside the kitchen, but still on mobile food facility. After food is cooked, it must be brought into the kitchen or mobile food prep truck/trailer for further processing. Selling cooked food off the grill directly to the customer is not allowed.

I want to design a custom food truck. What basics do I need to consider?

It may be a good idea to decide what type of foods or menu you want to sell before you start designing and building a custom truck. Simple menus are often the most successful for MFF vending. For detailed design and construction information, refer to CalCode Chapter 10. Mobile Food Facilities, Section 114294.

I am considering buying an older/used truck from someone who was in business before. Will I need to make modifications?

An older/used truck may have equipment that was installed before changes were made to the CalCode. As a new business, you will need to modify any equipment that is not in compliance with current CalCode regulations. Check CalCode, Chapter 10 for the most up to date requirements for MFFs.

I understand that restaurant operators in California need a certificate in food safety. Do I need a certificate to run an MFF?

Yes. Per CalCode Section 113947.1(a): “Food facilities that prepare, handle, or serve nonprepacked potentially hazardous food, except temporary food facilities, shall have an owner or employee who has successfully passed an approved and accredited food safety certification examination as specified in Sections 113947.2 and 113947.3. There shall be at least one food safety certified owner or employee at each food facility. No certified person at a food facility may serve at any other food facility as the person required to be certified pursuant to this subdivision. The certified owner or employee need not be present at the food facility during all hours of operation.”

Do my workers need any special certifications?

Any individual who is involved in the preparation, storage, or service of food in a food facility, other than an individual holding a valid food safety certificate is considered a "food handler" and must obtain a food handler card from a food protection manager certification organization per CalCode Section 113948.For more information please see our Food Handler Card page.

Do I need my own handwashing facilities - even if I am right next to the public restrooms?

Yes. Handwashing facilities are always required in each MFF where open foods or beverages are handled.

What is a commissary?

A commissary is a fixed food facility permitted by the State or local health department that services mobile food facilities, mobile support units, or vending machines where any of the following occur (CalCode Section 113751):
  1. Food, containers, or supplies are stored.
  2. Food is prepared or prepackaged for sale or service at other locations.
  3. Utensils are cleaned.
  4. Liquid and solid wastes are disposed, or potable water is obtained.
All mobile food facilities shall operate in conjunction with a commissary, mobile support unit, or other facility approved by Environmental Health.

What is a commercial kitchen?

Commercial kitchens are food facilities permitted by the local health department where food can be manufactured or prepared and stored. If you are planning to sell food or beverages to the public, you must prepare and/or store the foods in a commercial kitchen.

What inspection will Environmental Health conduct on my truck/cart?

An inspection is conducted when you apply for a new permit or renew an existing permit. This inspection covers all equipment on your MFF and checks that you have all required licenses, certifications and paperwork required by the necessary agencies related to your type of business. This inspection is conducted at your commissary or the Environmental Health office.
This inspection also ensures you are operating correctly so that hot/cold food temperatures and food handling are being conducted in a safe manner.

Can I sell at a Farmer's Market?

Yes. Inspectors visit events such as farmer's markets and recurring food truck corrals, and other temporary food events where MFFs may be found. Inspectors plan to start a more rigorous inspection program for new areas where MFFs are regularly operating.

Where is your office located?

We are located at 625 Fifth Street, Santa Rosa, CA 95404.

Where can I research the answers to any other questions I have?

Research the sections of CalCode that pertain to mobile food vending topics. Contact a reputable mobile food facility builder in your area to get estimates and/or to look at available units.

Contact Information

Public Health Division
County of Sonoma
Business Hours
Monday – Friday
8:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Contact us by Phone
Office Location
625 5th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
38.441823, -122.7137698

Current Fee Schedule

See Fee Schedule

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Fees for Fiscal Year 2021-2022 for all Environmental Health programs

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The California Retail Food Code

CalCode establishes uniform statewide health and sanitation standards for retail food facilities.

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