Female employee stacking fruit and vegetables on shelves in grocery store
ComplianceJanuary 31, 2024

Food distributor and wholesaler licensing requirements

Food distributors and wholesalers play a crucial role in the food supply chain, linking manufacturers and producers to grocery stores, food service business, restaurants, schools, hospitals, and others.

To safeguard the health and safety of the public, wholesalers and distributors must comply with numerous federal, state, and local government regulations, including licensing and registration requirements. 

In this article, we explore food distributor and wholesaler licensing requirements that may apply to your business. 

Food establishment or warehouse (state)

It is generally required that businesses storing food for sale or distribution to other businesses undergo an inspection and obtain a license from a state agency before selling or distributing food.

There may also be a separate license required for repackaging food items since repackaging is considered food processing in some states.

Furthermore, several food and beverage products (including dairy, seafood, and alcohol) require additional licensing, registration, or certification.

General business license (local)

A city or county may require your business obtain a general business license for the privilege of doing business there. This license may also be known as a business privilege license or business tax registration. Businesses of all types are required to comply with this requirement.

In some states (such as Washington and Alaska), both a state and local license is required.

Zoning (local)

Neighborhoods are typically zoned for either commercial or residential use. An area's zoning ordinance can restrict or ban specific types of businesses. If you plan to construct or expand a commercial property you may need to obtain a zoning and land use permit and approval.

Building and equipment (local)

Several building and equipment license, permit, and registration requirements apply to food distribution and wholesale businesses. Examples include:

  • Signs: Depending on the city and town, it may be necessary to obtain a permit from the city or town for display and installation of signs.
  • Refrigeration system: Maintaining or operating certain refrigeration systems may require a permit from the local fire department
  • Alarm systems: Police and fire departments require registration of security and fire alarm systems
  • Certificate of occupancy: An occupancy certificate specifies a building's legal use and/or type of occupancy. Changes in use, egress, or type of occupancy may require a certificate of occupancy or amendment of an existing certificate
Easily manage complex requirements
There are over 75,000 federal, state, and local jurisdictions.  As their compliance requirements become more complex, we’re the partner that can help you manage them all.

FDA food facility registration (federal)

If your business manufactures, processes, packs, or holds food intended for human or animal consumption in the U.S., you must register with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This includes food facilities in the U.S. and overseas. You must also give notice to the FDA if you have a domestic facility and transport food interstate.

The FDA must also be notified in advance of any shipments of imported food. While you can import food into the U.S. without prior approval by the FDA, you must have previously registered any production, storage, or handling facilities with the FDA and given prior notice of incoming shipments.

PACA (federal)

Under the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA), fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables are subject to fair trading practices in interstate commerce as well as abroad. By prohibiting unfair and fraudulent practices, the law protects growers, shippers, distributors, retailers, and others who deal in those commodities. 

A licensing system is used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to enforce PACA.

Anyone buying or selling more than 2,000 pounds of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables on a given day is required to be licensed under the PACA. In this category are wholesalers, processors, truckers, grocery wholesalers, and food service companies.

FMCSA (federal)

If your business will transport food via commercial means, you may be required to register with the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration), which is the main federal government agency responsible for providing safety oversight and regulation of commercial motor vehicles. 

To operate commercial vehicles in interstate commerce, your business must be registered with the FMCSA and have a USDOT number.

Learn more

States and counties mandate licenses for all food-related operations, spanning from food prep to consumption. Rigorous inspections and law enforcement in the food industry ensure public health and safety standards are met.

Contact CT Corporation’s business license team for more information about how we can help you navigate food distributor and wholesaler licensing requirements.

Hans Howk
Manager, Content Management
Hans provides internal support to key members of the Business Licensing Team, assisting with understanding industry nuances, searching and synthesizing statutes and regulations relating to business law.
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