Houston Health Department
Opening A Food Establishment
Opening a Food Establishment (Permanent Structure)
This section applies to permanent structures (buildings) only. It does not apply to mobile food units, temporary food establishments, produce-only stands, or Certified Farmer’s Markets.
- Open a mobile food unit
- Operate a temporary food establishment
- Operate a produce-only establishment
- Operate a Certified Farmer’s Market
- Online Permits
- Commercial Plan Review Information
- Prerequisite Checklist
- City of Houston Online Permits
- Sample Commerical Building Permit Application
- Outside Beverage Bars Policy
- Food Inspection Requirements for Submission of Plans
- Food Service Manager Reciprocity Application
Information Pertaining to Food Establishments (Permanent Structures)
- Are Plans Required?
- Plan Preparation
- Plan Submission
- Pre-Operational Inspections
- Permit Information
- Change of Ownership Inspections
- Frequently Asked Questions
If you are considering constructing, remodeling, or altering or taking over an existing food establishment or mobile food unit, you may be required to submit plans. You will be required to schedule a pre-operational inspection and purchase a food dealer’s permit or medallion prior to beginning operations. The Houston Health Department Consumer Health Services Bureau can help you in making your business venture a successful one. Following these seven steps can save you time and perhaps money.
1. Are Plans Required? Plans must be submitted for the following:
- New construction of a food establishment.
- Remodeling a space not previously a food establishment.
- Remodeling involving a room addition, expansion into adjacent space, or removal/addition of walls or floor-mounted equipment
- Remodeling involving changing the scope of food service. In most cases, whether plans are needed or not depend on the type of equipment to be installed as required by the Houston Food Ordinance, other City ordinances, or business needs. Call Bureau of Consumer Health Services at 832-393-5100.
- Adding a new food preparation area
Plans are not generally required when:
- Taking over an existing permitted food business without any of the modifications described above. For information on a change of ownership see information at STEP 7 and then go to STEP 5 below to schedule a preoperational inspection.
If you need to submit plans, proceed to the next step to submit plans and specifications as follows:
2. Plan Preparation
Plans must be drawn to scale and include:
- Floor plan, including the proposed layout of all equipment.
- Specifications on equipment.
- Elevations of all food service equipment.
- Room-finish schedule including material type and finish color.
- Plans for remodeling should include existing, demolition and proposed floor plan and equipment layout.
Refer to the following handouts for Department of Health and Human Services to be sure that plan checking requirements are met.
- Food Inspection Requirements for Submission of Plans
- Prerequisite Checklist Plan Review Procedures
- Outdoor Beverage Bars
- Sample Building permit application
Tips and advice on plans creation and submission:
- Communicate on plans the kind of food establishment (restaurant, bakery, etc.) and the scope of food activities.
- If you are remodeling only a small part of a large establishment, make clear on the plans which part of the building is being modified.
- Use simple terms like “light blue”, “light gray”, or “yellow” to describe surface colors for walls and ceilings when manufacturer’s name for the color does not make that obvious
Many sections of the Planning and Development Department (such as structural, electrical, HVAC, plumbing, waste water, traffic and transportation, fire safety), in addition to the Health Department, have criteria that structures must meet in order to provide safe and sanitary amenities to the users of the establishment. All plan examiners review plans to determine compliance with respective City ordinances.
- Commercial plan review information
- Apply for a building permit online
- Information about building permits
3. Plan Submission
Submit plans. Obtain approval and construction permits.
Submit in person two sets of plans and specifications to: City of Houston - Commercial Plan Review Section, 3300 Main, Houston, Texas 77002 (Telephone 713-535-7500) Hours = 8 am – 4:30 pm.
The following fees apply when submitting plans and will be included with your building permit fees:
Approval or Rejection of Plans
- After the plan checking office reviews the plans, the person who submitted the plans will be notified. The plans are either approved or rejected by the reviewer. Rejected plans are returned with lists of specific corrections, changes or alterations that must be made in order to obtain approval. Approved plans are stamped and dated. Once approved, a building permit, if needed is issued. No construction should take place until the plans are approved and the building permit is issued by the Planning and Development Department.
- One set of plans is retained for filing and the other set is returned to the submitter. The approved set must be kept on the job site until all construction is completed and a pre-opening inspection is performed by all applicable departments.
- To check on status of submitted plans, click here.
- To go to Code Enforcement website, click here.
Construct or modify according to approved plans
If during construction, the need to vary from the approved plan arises, obtain approval on modified plans before proceeding.
5. Pre-Operational Inspections
- Schedule a Pre-operational Inspection by calling Consumer Health Services front desk: 713-794-9200. Ask for an appointment for a “pre-opening inspection.”
- Tips and General Information on Pre-operational Inspections
- Schedule the inspection several days in advance of desired inspection date.
- Make sure the person taking the appointment has an accurate business location address and useful phone number for contact person.
- Give yourself time between the pre-operational inspection and opening day (in case the project doesn’t pass the first inspection).
- A preliminary inspection before the project is finished will cost $50, but may prevent potential big delays in opening.
Preparing for the inspection:
- If plans were required, have your approved set on-site for the inspection.
- All construction must correspond to approved set of plans. If you change your mind about something during construction, take revised plans to have changes approved.
- Make sure walls and ceilings are light-colored in required areas including: restrooms, restroom vestibules, food preparation areas, (including walls in bars and wait-stations), utensil-washing areas, walk-in refrigeration units, food storage areas.
- Caulk top edges of sinks to walls.
During the inspection:
- A pre-operational inspector will inspect the premises to ensure that all required construction corresponds to the approved set of plans. If the establishment complies with all ordinance requirements an invoice for a food dealer’s permit will be issued after the final pre-opening inspection. When plans are required for the project, make sure the pre-operational inspector calls in your project number to Health plan checking officer upon approving the project. This is necessary in order to obtain your occupancy permit.
6. Permit Information
Purchase Food Permit using invoice created at final inspection.
Bring a photo ID and your invoice to 8000 North Stadium Drive, pay the invoice at the Cashier’s office on the first floor. Cash, company check, Visa, Discover, MasterCard and Debit Cards are accepted. (American Express is not accepted.) Take the paid invoice to first floor. You will receive a food dealer’s permit.
- No person may operate a food establishment without a valid/current food dealer’s permit.
- Permits are not transferable from one address to another or from one person to another.
- Permits must be posted in the view of the public.
- Permits remain the property of the Department.
- Permits must be renewed on an annual basis.
- It is the responsibility of the permit holder to contact the Department if the application for permit renewal has not been received.
- Click here to view the different types of permits, including, but not limited to, temporary permits, mobile food unit medallions, food dealer’s permits, and certified farmers markets. This section will also have necessary instructions on how to obtain each permit, fees, and permit applications.
7. Change of Ownership Inspections
In order to CHANGE OWNERSHIP of an existing food establishment in the City of Houston, follow these guidelines.
Anyone desiring to rent, lease, purchase or re-open an existing food establishment may request a review of the food establishment’s file, (via an open records request), or an inspection (832-393-5100 for appointment). Inspection reports can also be viewed here.
- If the food establishment has no structural or equipment deficiencies, it may be possible to obtain a food dealer’s permit to operate. A Health Department inspection must determine compliance with the current City Food Ordinance.
- If the food establishment inspection reports document a history of Ordinance violations, including structural or equipment defects, it may be necessary to submit plans and specifications for remodeling and/or additions to bring the establishment up to existing standards.
- Anyone desiring an inspection of an existing food establishment must call for an inspection appointment.
- All existing violations will be documented on the inspection report. After all corrections have been completed, a re-inspection must be performed to determine compliance prior to operating.
- Once an invoice for a food dealer’s permit is issued by the health officer, it must be hand carried and paid at the Houston Health Department office (8000 N Stadium Dr) prior to operating the new business.
Please call 832.393.5100 to schedule an inspection or for more information regarding the Health Department requirements for operating a food establishment.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q Why do you need a set of plans (blueprints)?
If there is construction/remodeling/alteration/conversion of an existing structure to a food establishment, plans are required. The submitted plans must comply with set criteria for public health that are acceptable by both the building officials and other enforcement agencies. Having and following reviewed plans can save money on expensive corrections for the structure under construction.
Q When do you need a set of plans (blueprints)?
Plans (blueprints) are required before a new or existing food establishment is to be constructed, remodeled or altered. Plans are also required if an existing structure is converted into a food establishment, or if the scope of food service is changing. Plans are to be submitted and approved prior to any construction, operation or demolition.
Q Who reviews the plans and why?
Many sections of the Planning and Development Department (such as structural, electrical, HVAC, plumbing, waste water, traffic and transportation, fire safety) and the HHD have criteria that structure will meet in order to provide safe and sanitary amenities to the users of the establishment. All plan examiners review plans to determine compliance with respective City Ordinances.
Q Where can one get a set of proper plans?
Most architectural and engineering firms offer plans drafting services. Some restaurant supply and design firms also offer this service.
Q Do you need a set of plans to change food services?
Yes. If food establishment changes types of food and beverages offered, plans are required.