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Without proper license, Northern Michigan caterers may be violating food laws

MARCH 15 – As wedding and graduation season approaches, officials with the Health Department of Northwest Michigan are advising caterers and catering businesses that they must obtain their own food license, rather than simply operating in a food preparation kitchen that is licensed by another entity. Because food licenses are location-specific, some catering operations may be in violation of the law by preparing food at a remote location without the proper license. The public is also being warned about food that is prepared under these illegal circumstances, and catering customers are advised to verify caterers' licensing status.

“Proper inspection and licensing are necessary to protect public health,” said Mike Jones, Environmental Health District Supervisor for the Health Department. “Caterers committed to providing safe food simply take the necessary precautions and get licensed.” Jones added that caterers must obtain a separate license to operate a special transitory food unit or mobile food unit if they need to prepare food away from their main facility. Otherwise, all food must be prepared at the licensed kitchen and taken to the serving location in “ready-to-serve” form.

Michigan Food Law requires that each separately-managed business must have its own food license. This may mean that more than one licensed food or catering business operates from a shared kitchen. Further, the law says food preparation – cutting, slicing, mixing, washing, peeling, chopping, cooking, heating, re-heating, thawing, assembly or portioning of food items – is not allowed anywhere other than the licensed location.

In addition to keeping foods safe for the public, Jones said these laws protect individuals and facilities from being liable if something does go wrong. “If a licensed kitchen facility lets an unlicensed caterer prepare food there, then that facility is incurring substantial risk,” he cautioned.

Catering businesses in Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego Counties should contact the Health Department at (800) 432-4121 to obtain the correct license applications, and submit them no later than May 31. After that date, any catering business found to be operating without the proper license(s) will be subject to legal action, including orders to cease operations and removal of illegally-prepared foods.

The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is mandated by the Michigan Public Health Code to promote wellness, prevent disease, provide quality healthcare, address health problems of vulnerable populations, and protect the environment for the residents and visitors of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego Counties.