Starting a small business selling food

Learn about the first steps to starting a small business selling food in New Zealand; including selling from a roadside stall, mobile vehicle or market. We cover registering a food business, the food safety and hygiene standards and other legal requirements you must comply with to keep your customers safe. We also suggest where to get further advice, including if you plan to export.

First steps in starting a food business

Selling food usually requires the business to be registered. There are two ways to achieve this:

  1. The first is to operate from premises that meet the registration requirements of the Food Hygiene Regulations 1974; and which are inspected by the local council (Territorial Authority) for the area
  2. The alternative is to develop a Food Safety Programme (FSP) that is registered with MPI and which is audited by an independent auditor.

If you are intending to sell food to raise money for charity you may be exempt from some registration requirements. However, these types of activities may be subject to local Territorial Authority bylaws.

Registering a food business with the Territorial Authority

To start the registration process, contact your local council. The council’s Environmental Health Officer will be able to inform you of national and local council requirements to start a food business in that area.

It is a good idea to go to the council with a plan identifying what you intend to do and where you would like to do it.

For example, if you intend to start a business in an empty building, you could make a simple sketch of where you plan to put the fixtures and fittings, such as:

  • sinks
  • hand wash basins
  • chilled storage
  • food preparation areas
  • cookers
  • food displays
  • location of water supplies and drainage
  • ventilation
  • access.

This will help the Environmental Health Officer to advise what other space or facilities you may need to provide in order to register the premises for a food business.

If you are taking over an existing business, you will need to re-register it in your name. Check with the local council that the existing registration is appropriate for your intended business. There will be different requirements if you for example, are taking over a ‘corner’ dairy but intend to open a restaurant.

Also check whether the council has any legal notices or requisitions outstanding at the premises, as once you take on the business you will be expected to complete them. This information will be identified on a Land Information Memorandum (LIM) report available from your local council. If you intend to make any alterations to the business, identify what these will be and discuss with the Environmental Health Officer as above.

There may be other requirements that your local council will enforce at your business, such as planning controls, building permits and liquor licensing. Your local council may also have bylaws for specific aspects of trading – such as hygiene training and street trading requirements.

Registering a Food Safety Programme with MPI

Premises operating an approved Food Safety Programme are not required to register with or be inspected by the local council. Instead, an independent New Zealand Food Safety Authority approved auditor must audit the business on a predetermined frequency.

What is a Food Safety Programme?

A food safety programme is a written plan designed to manage food safety. It examines all of the steps involved in producing food (from ingredient purchase through to final sale). It also identifies anything that has the potential to cause harm to the consumer (the hazards), and puts in place controls to eliminate or minimise those hazards. When the programme is completed and in place, your business will have a comprehensive food safety system to follow day-to-day.

Your industry may already be operating to a code of practice. This is a set of guidelines defining minimum requirements for food safety through all stages of the production cycle, from raw materials to consumption. A code of practice will provide you with an indication of the food safety issues to be addressed by your Food Safety Programme.

The first step towards registering a Food Safety Programme is to contact MPI by phoning 0800 00 83 33 or emailing for guidance on how to develop a Food Safety Programme.

Registering your Food Safety Programme (FSP) (Food Safety website)

Developing your Food Safety Programme (FSP) (Food Safety website)

Codes of practice (COPs) (Food Safety website)

Domestic Food Review (DFR) (Food Safety website)

Where can I find out if we are still registered?

Food businesses registered with a local council have to apply annually for registration. If you are an existing business, the registration certificate will show the date of expiry of the current registration. The registration certificate must be up-to-date; if it is not, contact your local council immediately. Your registration certificate must be displayed in a position where your customers can see it.

MPI maintains the register for food businesses operating with a food safety programme.

Food Safety Programmes register (Food Safety website)