Do I Need a Retail Food Establishment License in Colorado?

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Colorado coffee shops and cafes require food vendor licenses.
Colorado coffee shops and cafes require food vendor licenses. (Image: Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images)

The state of Colorado requires all food retailers and vendors to secure food vendor licenses. The licensing requirements and fees for each food vendor license are dependent upon the business’s actual retail environment and operations. Though Colorado’s retail food establishments are subject to the state’s regulations, most food establishment licenses are issued and administered by the local county’s health department.

Food Vendor

Colorado defines retail food establishments as food vendors. Under Colorado definition, food vendors include canteen and candy vendors, caterers, chili roasting businesses, coffee kiosks, farmers markets, food services, meals on wheels and mobile food services, nut and push cart vendors, shaved ice carts, street vendors and owners of vending machines and vending carts.

Requirements

All food vendors are required to have a Colorado sales tax account number which is issued by the Colorado Department of Revenue. Food vendors who cook or prepare their foods before selling them are required to have a commercial kitchen within the business's establishment. All mobile food vendors must maintain a brick-and-mortar headquarters that includes a commercial kitchen, if food preparation is involved. In most cases, food vendors that only sell nonperishable, prepackaged foods are not required to obtain a food vendor license. In addition, personal caterers that prepare food within their clients’ kitchens are not required to obtain a food vendor license.

Food Service

Colorado restaurants also require food service licenses. Along with a standard restaurant, Colorado defines restaurants as cafes and coffee shops, convenience stores, delis and diners, fast food and food service establishments, as well as lounges and night clubs. Food service licenses are issued by the state, rather than the local health department. Restaurant inspections are also completed by state officials.

Considerations

All food vendors and establishments must complete their license applications with the local city department. Upon application, the department will determine if your license will be issued by the local city or by the state of Colorado. Though each city has its own specific application requirements, many requirements are consistent throughout the state. Each food vendor and establishment must establish and register a legal business entity, secure a zoning permit, pay the applicable fee and successfully pass the required inspections. Speak with your local city representative for specifics.

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