ComplianceJanuary 16, 2024

Grocery store business license requirements

The retail food industry is regulated by more than 3,000 state, local, and tribal agencies. These entities oversee and inspect more than one million grocery stores and other food service establishments, each of whom must obtain specific business licenses and permits. In addition, many grocery stores are regulated by the federal government.

Faced with so many regulations, you may be wondering what licenses are needed to run a grocery store. In this article, we explore grocery store license requirements that may apply to your business.

Access the licensing requirements by state in this smart chart: Food industry license requirements

Federal-level licenses for grocery stores

PACA licensing

The Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) regulates the sale of fresh and frozen agricultural products in the United States.

A PACA license is required for anyone who buys or sells more than 2,000 pounds of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables on any given day. Foodservice firms, wholesalers, processors, and grocery wholesalers fall into this category. In addition, anyone selling fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables at retail is required to obtain a PACA license once the invoice cost exceeds $230,000.

PACA is administered and regulated by the Agricultural Marketing Service, a dedicated agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Does the FDA regulate grocery stores?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate grocery stores. These establishments are, however, regulated by state and local government agencies.

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.

State and local-level licenses and permits for grocery stores

Each state has its laws governing retail food businesses. Depending on your location and type of operation, you may need different licenses and permits. For example, will you be selling tobacco products or alcohol? If so, your grocery business may need to work with multiple state and local agencies and departments.

Sales tax license

A sales tax license, also known as a seller’s permit, is needed by any business that sells products or services. The license is typically issued by your state’s Department of Revenue.

Retail food establishment license

If foods are directly sold to a consumer from a physical location or facility, then a retail food establishment license may be required. Licenses are generally issued by the state Department of Agriculture or Department of Public Health.
Some jurisdictions require this license (or some variation) to be obtained both at the state and local levels. For example, in Pennsylvania, not all grocery stores fall under the jurisdiction of the PA Department of Agriculture. Instead, the counties of Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Erie, Montgomery, and Philadelphia, are subject to county health requirements, including inspections and licensing. Likewise in New York City, grocery store owners must obtain a retail food store license from the NY State Department of Agriculture and Markets as well as a Food Service Establishment Permit from the NYC Department of Health.

Food processor license

If your business engages in food processing, such as meat and cheese slicing, making coffee, heating foods, making sandwiches, operating a beverage dispenser, or preparing or mixing ready-to-eat salads you may need a separate food processor license or permit.

Check requirements with your state and local government.

Alcohol and tobacco licensing and registration

State liquor authorities and local governments typically license alcohol sales. In addition, under federal law, retail beverage alcohol dealers are required to complete the Alcohol Dealer Registration.

There are also strict regulations governing the sale and distribution of tobacco products. If you sell tobacco retail or wholesale, you must obtain the required state, county, and city licenses.

General business licenses

In some counties and municipalities, a general business license is required for doing business. Some states issue this license at the state level.

Miscellaneous permits and licenses

There may also be a myriad of other licenses and permits required at the local level, including:

  • Zoning and land use permits. In designated areas, local governments' zoning laws may prohibit certain business activities.
  • Certificate of occupancy. The document explains how a building is legally used and/or occupied.
  • Building permit. In general, major structural changes or construction require permits.
  • Weighing and measuring devices. Regular inspections of these devices are usually required of stores before they are used and on a regular basis. Additionally, some jurisdictions may require that you obtain a state or local permit or endorsement.
  • Sign permit. Displays and installations of signs may require this permit
  • Equipment permits. Such as permits for an alarm system, dumpster, generator, or air conditioning.

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 grocery store 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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