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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Do I need a food dealer's permit to sell food to my friends?
Except for private parties and family gatherings, anyone, who sells or serves food (edible products), is required to obtain a food dealer's permit from the Houston Department of Health and Human Services. A permit is required regardless of whether the food is intended to be consumed on or off the premises and regardless of whether there is charge for the food.

How do I get a food dealer's permit?
The Houston Department of Health and Human Services inspector must inspect and approve your facility to issue a food dealer's permit. Please review the  opening a food establishment in the City of Houston guidelines.  

I have a great family recipe. Can I start my business in my home?
According to the Houston Food Ordinance link to this section, Section 20-21.1, food prepared in or obtained from an unlicensed private home or other unlicensed food establishment is prohibited.

Do I need other permits to operate a food establishment in the City of Houston?
City of Houston's One Stop Business Center can provide important information for Houston area small businesses. Please call them at (832) 393-0954 or click here to visit the center's web site.

If you manufacture foods for retail sale, you must also register with the Texas Department of Health as a Food Manufacturer. Please contact the Manufactured Foods Division at (512) 834-6670. 

For food establishments located in Harris County, but not Houston limits, contact the Harris County Health Department at (713) 439-6260 or click here to visit their website.

Is there a certification program for food establishment operators?
The City of Houston Food Ordinance requires that each food establishment must have a certified manager on duty at all times. The classes are offered at the Houston Department of Health and Human Services. Please make reservations to attend the class. An initial two-day certification class ($70.00 for a five year certificate) and a one-day renewal class ($55.00 for a five year renewal certificate) are offered in six languages. English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Asian, and Korean language classes are offered on a regular basis. Please call 713-794-9200 to make reservations. Click here for more information about the certification classes

How do I file a food-safety and sanitation related complaint against a food establishment?
The Houston Department of Health and Human Services investigates consumer complaints against food establishments in the City of Houston. Please call 713-794-9200 to register a complaint against a food establishment. Please provide the name and address of the food establishment.  You can also click here for the food establishment complaint intake form. Link to complaint and FBI forms

How does the local media obtain information about my food establishment inspection report?
All inspection related documents are public records. Through the Texas Public Information Act, anyone can review and obtain records about your food establishment inspection history.

Where do I obtain more information about the Houston Health and Human Services Department?
The Bureau of Consumer Health Services can be reached at 713-794-9200. The Houston Department of Health and Human Services can be reached at 713-794-9320.

Is dating required for food products sold in the food establishments?
Except for infant formula and baby food, product dating is not required by any regulations. If a calendar date is shown on the product there must be a phrase explaining the meaning of that date such as "sell by" or "use before." The calendar date on the product is not a safety date. The date helps the store owner/operator determine how long to display the product for sale.
Open dating (use of a calendar date rather than a code) is found on perishable foods such as meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. Closed or coded dating (packing numbers for manufacturer’s use) is used for shelf-stable products such as cans and jars of food.

What types of dates are used on food products?
"Sell-By" date tells the store owner/operator how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date.
"Best if used by" date is recommended for best flavor or quality. This is not a purchase or safety date.
"Use-By" date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. This date is determined by the manufacturer.
"Closed or coded dates" are packing numbers for manufacturer's use.

Is the food safe after expiration date?
Except for "Use-By" dates, product dates do not refer to home storage and use after purchase. Even if the date expires during home storage, a product may be safe, wholesome and of good quality if handled properly.

Can a retail establishment change the dates on food products?
A retailer may sell fresh or processed meat and poultry products beyond the expiration date on the package as long as the product is safe and wholesome. It is also legal for a retailer to change date on wholesome fresh meat that has been cut up and wrapped in the meat department.
It is illegal to modify a label on a product packaged under federal inspection. If a product has an expired date and the food remains wholesome, the product may continue to be offered for sale but the expired date cannot be altered, changed or covered by a new date.

I think I got sick from eating at a restaurant.  I have a portion of the food in my refrigerator at home.  Will someone from your department pick up the food from my home and have it tested?
No.  The food has left the possession of the food establishment.  The food may have been subject to time-temperature abuse or possible contamination.  It is not considered to be an “official sample.”  The Houston Department of Health and Human Services (HDHHS) laboratory will not accept an unofficial sample.  An “official sample” is a sample collected by a sanitarian or epidemiologist in accordance with Houston Department of Health and Human Services procedures for regulatory use.

Can I have the food tested myself?
Yes.  You may have it tested at a private laboratory.  You may find a laboratory by checking the yellow pages of your telephone directory or by searching the internet.
For this and any other food safety related information, feel free to call the Houston Department of Health and Human Services at 713-794-9200.