What Kind of License Do I Need to Become a Food Vendor in Indiana?

Food vendors in Indiana get their license at the local level. There's no single Indiana food vendor license; instead, there are Lake County, Allen County and Marion County licenses, among others. However, local governments do have to follow Indiana laws on retail food businesses.

Indiana Retail Food Businesses

Under Indiana law, if you sell food to a grocery store, restaurant or other business for resale, you're a wholesaler. Everyone else in the food world is a retail food business. The term, and the Indiana food vendor license rules, includes restaurants, grocery stores, bars, caterers and food trucks.

Indiana retail food vendors are subject to county regulation and licensing unless they operate on state property.

Indiana Food Truck Regulations

If you're applying for an Indiana food truck license, you have to meet many of the same requirements as a brick-and-mortar restaurant:

  • You need someone in charge of food safety. They must be trained in those skills.
  • Food must be obtained from an approved source and kept at a safe temperature.
  • Your truck must be kept free of rats, mice or insects.
  • If you need food refrigerated or kept hot, you must have the appropriate equipment on the truck. You must have accurate thermometers.
  • All equipment must be installed properly.
  • You must have adequate water and sewage systems and sinks for handwashing, equipment washing and mop washing.
  • Floors, walls and ceilings must be easily cleanable.

Your local health department can provide specific details on Indiana food truck regulations, such as what constitutes adequate water and easily cleanable surfaces.

Food Safety Training

To become the food-safety manager for your retail food business, you or one of your employees must take training classes from a state-approved training program. After completing the classes, you must pass a proctored test; online certification isn't acceptable. The certification has to be renewed every year; if your manager doesn't recertify, your business no longer complies with the law.

Retail Food Application

Whatever questions you have about Indiana food truck regulations or regulations for other types of vendors, you can find answers on your county department of health website. Marion County, for example, lists the requirements for mobile vendors using carts or trucks:

  • You have a professional kitchen where your food is prepared.
  • You obtain any relevant licenses and tax forms. Hot dog carts, for instance, must contact the county department of business for added requirements.
  • You submit an application that includes a floor plan of your cart or truck and a detailed menu. For hot dogs, that would include your use of condiments or toppings.
  • You also provide the county with information about the locations and times where you intend to stop and serve customers, the number of meals a day, whether you're serving prepackaged food or cooking it to order and what you'll do with unsold food, among other information.

The specifics of applying in other counties may be different, but the broad strokes should be similar.

Selling Homemade Goods

Like many states, Indiana allows you to sell food baked from home. A home-based vendor is exempt from the rules of retail food businesses. As long as you follow the rules, you don't need an Indiana food vendor license and your kitchen doesn't require a health inspection.

  • You sell food at a farmer's market or a roadside stand, nowhere else.
  • You can only serve food Indiana classifies as nonhazardous. This includes baked goods, nuts, honey, whole produce, molasses and some poultry. 
  • Homemade food must meet Indiana labeling rules. The label on packaged food must include your name and address, the date you packaged the food, the ingredients and a statement your kitchen hasn't been inspected. For produce, you can use a placard instead of a label.
  • If you sell food with incorrect labeling or a consumer files a complaint, your kitchen may be subject to inspection. 
  • If you sell potentially hazardous foods or otherwise violate the law, the state may apply the full weight of the retail food rules to your business.

References

About the Author

Fraser Sherman has written about every aspect of business: how to start one, how to keep one in the black, the best business structure, the details of financial statements. He's also run a couple of small businesses of his own. He lives in Durham NC with his awesome wife and two wonderful dogs. His website is frasersherman.com