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Food Service Establishments

Food Service Facilities | Temporary Food Service Establishments | Mobile Food Units and Push Carts Limited Food Service Establishments | ServSafe | Associated Fees

NOTICE: New Food Service Establishment Rules become Effective September 1, 2012
Use the links below to read the documentation regarding the new regulations.


Ensuring proper sanitation in food service establishments is important to public health and the prevention of food-borne illness. The Food and Lodging section enforces the state rules in the permitting and inspections of food handling establishments. The frequency of inspections varies for each establishment depending on the risk factors and how food is processed in the facility. Establishments can be inspected one to four times a year depending on this risk-based inspection category.

There are five major risk factors in prevention of a food-borne illness:

  1. Poor personal hygiene
  2. Inadequate cooking
  3. Improper food temperatures
  4. Cross contamination
  5. Food from unapproved sources

The types of food service facilities inspected by this department include:

  • Restaurants
  • Food stands
  • Delis and meat markets
  • Public and private school cafeterias
  • Mobile food units and push carts
  • Elderly nutrition sites and institutional kitchens
  • Limited food service establishments
  • Temporary food service establishments

Constructing or Buying a Restaurant

All food service establishments must have a valid permit from this office in order to operate. Prior to the construction of a new establishment, plans must be submitted and approved by the Environmental Health Office and other regulatory agencies, such as Building Inspections. An existing permit is not transferable from one owner to another. When an establishment changes ownership, our office must be contacted to conduct an evaluation of the establishment prior to opening in order for a transitional permit to be issued to the new owner. The transitional permit allows the new operator 180 days to repair all non-compliant items found during the initial evaluation.

Plan Review Application for New Construction of a Food Service Establishment

Limited Food Service Establishments are those that prepare or serve food in conjunction with amateur athletic events. These include conession stands. Download the Application for a Limited Food Service Establishment.

Festivals, Fairs, Carnivals, and Events

All food vendors wishing to sell potentially hazardous foods at an event in Johnston County must complete an application and return it to our office with the required fee prior to the date of operation. The event sponsor must also notify the department prior to the event and complete all necessary forms from this office. Forms should be submitted to this office at least one week before the event date.

Not all food vendors need a permit. Vendors who sell foods that are not considered potentially hazardous may not require a permit from this office in order to operate. Foods that do not require a permit include:

  • Popcorn or kettle corn
  • Candy
  • Pies, cakes, and cookies
  • Desserts or fried desserts
  • Ice cream
  • Snowballs
  • Funnel cakes or elephant ears
  • Candy apples
  • Ice and beverages such as coffee, teas, and lemonade
  • Whole raw fruits and vegetables

The above-listed foods may be regulated by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. The NC Department of Agriculture can be contacted directly at (919) 733-7366.

View a list of the foods that require a permit versus those that do not.
Requirements for a Temporary Food Establishment Permit
Temporary Food Establishment Checklist

Non-Profit Organizations

Organizations that are "bona-fide" not-for-profit can claim a two-day exemption from having to receive a permit. The two-day exemption can only be used once per month for two consecutive days. Non-profit vendors must submit documentation to this office showing their non-profit status.

Documentation of Exemption form (for non-profits)

A mobile food unit is a fully enclosed food service establishment that is vehicle-mounted and readily moved, simply stated as a restaurant on wheels. A pushcart is a small, unenclosed mobile piece of equipment that is designed to serve hot dogs only. Both types of units are required to be permitted through this office and shall operate in conjunction with a permitted restaurant or commissary. The owner or operator of the restaurant or commissary must complete the required Agreement form from this office.

All requirements for push carts and mobile food units are found in the Rules Governing the Sanitation of Food Service Establishments, sections .2638 to .2640.

General Guidelines for Mobile Food Units

All units are required to have a potable water system with hot and cold running water under pressure. Units must have a sewage storage tank that is 15 percent larger than the water supply tank. At least a single-compartment sink with integral drain boards on each side of the sink shall be provided for utensil washing, a separate lavatory is also required for hand washing. Depending on the type or volume of foods prepared on the unit, a sink for vegetable or meat preparation may also be required. Units must have mechanical refrigeration capable of keeping all potentially hazardous foods at 45 degrees F or below. All equipment such as sinks, refrigeration, cooking, and hot-holding equipment shall meet the NSF/ANSI sanitation standard.

Mobile Food Unit Application and Commissary Agreement

General Guidelines for Push Carts

A push cart must be constructed to meet the provisions of 15A NCAC 18A .2600 and NSF/ANSI standard 59. If the push cart is not NSF, the manufacturer or owner must submit documentation that demonstrates it is constructed to meet the equivalency of the NSF/ANSI standard. These forms can be found in the links below. Only hot dogs and similar types of products can be prepared, handled, or served from a push cart. All foods and utensils on the cart must be protected by an enclosure at all times to protect them from contamination. View the links below for the design guidelines and applications for push carts.

Push Cart Design Instruction Memo
Design and Construction Requirements for Push Carts (with Verification form)
Push Cart Commissary Agreement form
Mobile Food Unit and Push Cart Application

Important Links

General Food Service Links
Food Service Facilities
Limited Food Service Establishments
Temporary Food Establishments
Mobile Food Units and Push Carts