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How to Start a Retail Food Business

In Indiana, food operations are divided between Retail and Wholesale operations. Retail operations include restaurants, grocery stores, local festivals and fairs, and other businesses selling food products directly to the consumer. Wholesale food operations are those that manufacture and/or distribute to another entity for resale or distribution.


To start a retail food business requires careful planning, knowledge of food safety, and skillful management, in addition to knowledge of Indiana Food laws and any federal regulations. The Indiana Administrative Code (IAC) under 410 IAC 7-24-79 defines a “retail food establishment” as “an operation that stores, prepares, packages, serves, vends, or otherwise provides food for human consumption”. The term includes a delivery service or a mobile or temporary facility where consumption is on or off the premises, and regardless of whether there is a charge for the food. These are a few examples: a restaurant, a catering operation, a grocery store, a tavern, or a food bank.

Where to Start

The Indiana State Food law requires that all food establishments be registered through the state or the county health department. The county health departments have jurisdiction over a retail food establishment NOT on state property.  A majority of counties require a permit and a fee to operate in their county. Please contact your local health department for more information.

If you are on state property and meet the definition of a retail food establishment, please call our office at 317/234-8569, to find out what rules will apply to your business and to receive a copy of the “Retail Food Establishment Sanitation Requirements.” Questions and comments may be submitted via email to

Please note that plans for your operation need to be sent to our office and a registration form is required. A plan review application, plan review questionnaire and registration forms are available on our website under “Forms”.

Not for Profit Organizations

Indiana State Food Law (Indiana Code (IC) 16-18-2-137 exempts organizations that are tax exempt under IC 6-2.5-5-21(b)(1)(B),(C), and (D) from the definition of a "food establishment".   Indiana food law allows you to sell food to the final consumer at an event for not more than 15 days in a calendar year without registering with the state or county health department, provided the food is made and labeled by the organizations members and is not an "extensive menu".  Please review Non-Profit Exemption-Understanding Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 190 Guidance to ensure that the organization meets the requirements specified in the law. Organizations are also exempt from the Food Handler Certification rule 410 IAC 7-22. If you have any questions please call the department at (317) 234-8569.

Prerequisite for Operation and Submission of Plans

IAC 410-7-24, Section 110, requires that plans be submitted to the regulatory authority. The regulatory authority is either the county health department or the Indiana State Department of Health. The submission of plans are also required by other state entities, such as Fire and Building Services; your architect or engineer should have that information.

To ensure that your plans are complete please fill out the Plan Review Questionnaire form available on our website under “Forms.”  The Questionnaire can be used as a checklist to ensure a complete and accurate Application for Plan Review.

The Application for Plan Review can be found on our website under “Forms.” The plans should include:

  • The intended menu to be served
  • The anticipated volume of the food to be stored, prepared, and sold or served
  • The proposed layout, mechanical schematics, construction materials and finish schedule
  • The proposed equipment types, manufacturers, model numbers, locations, dimensions, performance capacities, and installation specifications.
  • Other information as required by the regulatory authority for the review of the proposed construction, conversion or modifications and procedures for operating a retail food establishment.

IAC 410-7-24, Section 107 states that the retail food establishment shall notify the regulatory authority with intent to operate at least thirty (30) days prior to registering under the rule.

Plan Review Process

Variance Protocols

Food Protection Manager Certification


A Short Check List

bullet Plans and Registration/Permit Applications are submitted to the regulatory authority.
bullet All food employees shall be free from infection or illness that is transmissible by food and shall practice excellent hygiene.
bullet A person who is responsible for food safety at the establishment shall be trained in food safety.
bullet All foods/ingredients must be obtained from an approved source and received in good condition and at proper temperature.
bullet Keep the facility secure from insects, birds and rodents.
bullet Refrigeration/freezer/hot and cold holding equipment must meet the needs of the operation.
bullet Equipment must be designed, constructed, and installed properly.
bullet The facility must have accurate thermometers.
bullet The facility must have adequate water and sewage systems.
bullet The facility must have sinks for handwashing, equipment/utensil cleaning, and a mop/service sink.
bullet The floors, walls and ceilings must be smooth and easily cleanable.