California Catering State Law

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Caterers provide food and services at either public or private events. Whether the event includes a bar mitzvah, a birthday party, a corporate event or a county fair, California offers strict laws governing how catering firms operate. Before starting a catering business, a review of California catering laws and regulations may make the process of obtaining permits and meeting other requirements much easier.


The definition of a caterer in California includes a person, business or food facility that makes, transports and serves food at public or private events. This differs from a cook-for-hire who makes all of the food on the site of the event. Caterers must store and prepare the food in an approved, permitted, permanent food facility. While cooks-for-hire do not need a health permit, caters are required to obtain a health permit under the California Retail Food Code.


California law requires that two types of caterers must obtain annual health permits. The first type of caterer includes a fixed restaurant facility that also provides catering services. Prior to performing any catering services, the restaurant needs to submit a separate plan of the catering operation for approval by California’s Environmental Health Department.

The second type of caterer uses a permanent kitchen to make the food. This type of caterer must get a permit for the kitchen and provide a written agreement for use of that kitchen. The caterer must also obtain a catering permit. All of these tasks must be completed before going into operation. Some counties also require a verification of commissary form be completed and submitted as part of the process.


According to the CRFC, caterers must prepare all food at the their approved establishment except for barbecue foods, which may be cooked on site. An exception is also made for caterers preparing and serving food all day at a public event, such as at a fair. The caterer must obtain a different health permit and permit fee to participate in these types of events.

Plan Review

Caterers must provide information on a variety of topics in order to obtain their catering permit. Information required includes itemized menus of all foods to be served as well the sources of all of the foods. The plan also requires information about the facility and the transport vehicle in relation to how it protects the food, equipment and utensils from contamination. The plan must show how hot foods stay hot and cold foods stay cold while in transport.


At the event itself, according to the CRFC, caterers must serve food in a safe, sanitary manner and protect the food from contamination. If the guests at the event serve themselves, the caterer must provide staff to monitor the area. Otherwise, the caterer my use employees to serve and handle the food. The law also requires the caterer to explain how utensils will stay sanitary when food service gets provided over long periods of time during an event.