For many foodies, starting a restaurant, cafe or food truck is the ultimate dream. After all, what could be more satisfying than earning a living from doing what you love?

But don’t forget that many businesses require licenses before they can get off the ground in Victoria, with hospitality laws being especially strict. That’s because making and selling food comes with certain responsibilities, least of all not poisoning your customers. So there are certain things you need to do before you can be legally operational – even if you’re only planning on running a food business from your domestic kitchen.

  1. Register your business

 Under the Food Act 1984, most businesses that prepare, sell, store or handle food intended for sale must register with their local council before they start operations. This includes businesses such as:

  • Restaurants and cafes
  • Takeaway businesses
  • Mobile food trucks
  • Home-based food businesses
  • Child care centres and aged care services

Registering with the council means you have to pay a food business registration fee and you are required to renew your registration every year.

If you’re planning on opening a ’low-risk’ food business such as a greengrocer, you might not need to register with the council. Instead, you may be required to do no more than notify the council of your intended activities. This carries no cost and only needs to be done once. 

  1. Classify your business

 Different food businesses are subject to different requirements. So, the council then classifies your business according to its food safety risk.

There are four classes in Victoria with Class 1 premises having the highest risk and Class 4 the lowest:

  • Class 1 includes hospitals, child services, meals on wheels, hospice and aged care centres
  • Class 2 includes baby food manufacturers, bakeries, canned foods, juice bars, pasta manufacturers, salad manufacturers, bed & breakfasts, caterers, fast food chains, mobile food units and restaurants
  • Class 3 includes breweries, confectionery makers, honey processors, ice cream shops, convenience stores, low-risk service stations, fruit stands and wineries
  • Class 4 includes pre-packaged confectionery shops, greengrocers and liquor shops

Unsurprisingly, the more high-risk your business’ food handling activities pose, the more requirements you’ll need to comply with.

For example, Class 1 and Class 2 food businesses need to:

  • Have a food safety program in place
  • Appoint a food safety supervisor

But Class 3 and Class 4 food businesses don’t 

  1. Get the right permits in place

 You may need to apply for a building or planning permit if you want to:

  • Build a new premises
  • Change an existing building into a food premises
  • Renovate an old food premises
  • Run a food business from your home
  • Have a liquor license

It’s a good idea to get expert advice early on in the process as local planning regulations are often complex. You also don’t want to start spending money on costly fit-outs or renovations, only to discover the work done doesn’t meet legal requirements.

 What if you’re buying an existing food business?

 While buying an established food business means you can skip many of the challenges involved in starting from scratch, it comes with risks attached. For example, the premises may have an outstanding health order or structural problems that need to be addressed before the business can legally operate.

As part of your due diligence, contact the council to perform a property enquiry on the premises. During this enquiry, an environmental health officer will assess the premises and write a report.

If you then decide to go ahead with the purchase, you will need to transfer the Food Act registration into your name.

Starting a food business comes with rewards and challenges. Make sure you stay on the right side of the law by getting the right legal advice from Sutton Laurence King. Call us on 03 9070 9810 or fill out this online form.