Do You Need a License to Sell Prepackaged Food?
A business license is required to start a business, including one selling prepackaged food. Additional licenses and permits related to food may be required as well. Your jurisdiction may have zoning rules and regulations that affect a home-based business storing and packaging food. If your residence is located in a neighborhood with a homeowners association, check the rules for stipulations about running a business from home.
Your state business development office, and city and county offices, can tell you what is required, such as an application and fees. Each city, and possibly county, may require a license, if you physically sell the prepackaged food in this jurisdiction. For example, say you sell spice and seasoning packages directly to consumers at flea markets, farmers markets, and arts-and-crafts shows in four different cities. Each city may require a license. If you sell the seasonings wholesale to a gourmet grocery store, you don't have to have a license for each city where the stores are located.
When selling directly to consumers either in person, by direct mail or through your website, you are required to obtain a sales-privilege license and collect sales tax to remit to the state and city where your business is located. Food may or may not be subject to sales tax, depending on where you're located -- it varies by state -- and whether the food is consumed on the premises. In other words, if you sell ice cream cups and the customer eats the ice cream in your booth, you may have to collect sales tax. If the food is taken home for consumption, then you may not have to collect sales tax. If you only sell the food wholesale, a sales license isn't required. However, some vendors won't give you a wholesale discount if you don't have a sales license.
Some states have broadened their regulations for sales tax by saying that if your business has a physical presence in their state, you must collect and remit sales tax from sales that take place in their state. The problem is whether having an affiliate sell your food products is considered having a physical presence in the state. An affiliate sells the product and receives a commission from you, but doesn't take possession of the food packages, deliver them or collect payment. Affiliates are sometimes called associates. Affiliate sales in Arkansas, Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, North Carolina and Rhode Island have been banned by Amazon.com because those states define a physical presence as selling through an affiliate who is a resident of the state. If you have affiliates in those states, you should collect and remit sales tax on those affiliate sales.
Buying prepackaged food and reselling it doesn't require that your kitchen be inspected or that you or your employees have to have a food handler's license. However, if you prepare the food and package it, the premises must be inspected for health and safety issues under whatever laws apply in your jurisdiction.