What are the Requirements for a Food Trailer in California?

Posted by Damian Roberti on

What are the Requirements for a Food Trailer in California? 

Starting a food trailer business in California can be an exciting venture, given the state's diverse and thriving food culture. However, there are specific requirements and regulations you must meet to ensure your food trailer operates legally and successfully. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the essential requirements for a food trailer in California, from permits and licenses to health and safety regulations.

Business Structure and Registration

Before you hit the road with your food trailer, you must establish a legal business entity. This can be a sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, or limited liability company (LLC). Forming an LLC is often a popular choice for food trailer owners due to its benefits in liability protection and tax flexibility.

Recommended Services for Business Formation:

Health Permits and Inspections

County Health Department Permit

To legally operate a food trailer in California, you must obtain a health permit from the local county health department where you plan to operate. This permit ensures your food trailer meets all health and safety standards set by the California Retail Food Code (CalCode).

Health and Safety Inspections

Your food trailer will need to undergo regular health and safety inspections. These inspections check for compliance with sanitation standards, proper food handling, and the condition of your equipment. Key areas of focus include:

  • Cleanliness: Your trailer must be kept clean and free of pests.
  • Food Storage: Proper refrigeration and storage to prevent contamination.
  • Equipment Maintenance: All cooking and storage equipment must be in good working condition.
  • Employee Hygiene: Ensuring all staff follow proper hygiene practices.

Vehicle and Equipment Requirements

Food Trailer Construction

California has specific requirements for the construction of food trailers. These requirements ensure that your trailer is built to safely and efficiently handle food preparation and sales. Some key construction requirements include:

  • Materials: Use of non-toxic, smooth, and easily cleanable materials.
  • Ventilation: Adequate ventilation systems to remove smoke, steam, and odors.
  • Water Supply: An adequate supply of hot and cold potable water.
  • Waste Disposal: Proper waste disposal systems for both solid and liquid waste.
  • Handwashing Facilities: Easily accessible handwashing stations with hot water.

Equipment Standards

All equipment used in your food trailer must meet commercial-grade standards. This includes cooking appliances, refrigeration units, and food storage containers. Equipment must be regularly maintained and cleaned to ensure food safety.

Commissary Requirements

In California, food trailers are required to operate in conjunction with a commissary. A commissary is a commercial kitchen where you can prepare and store food, clean equipment, and dispose of waste. Your food trailer must return to the commissary regularly for servicing.

Business Licenses and Permits

Local Business License

You will need to obtain a business license from each city or county where you plan to operate. This license grants you the legal right to conduct business within that jurisdiction.

Seller’s Permit

A seller’s permit from the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) is required for selling taxable items, including food. This permit allows you to collect sales tax from customers and report it to the state.

Food Handler Certification

All employees who handle food must obtain a Food Handler Card. This certification ensures that your staff understands proper food safety practices, such as hygiene, temperature control, and cross-contamination prevention. Training courses are available online and must be completed within 30 days of employment.

Fire Safety Requirements

Your food trailer must comply with fire safety regulations to ensure the safety of your staff and customers. Key fire safety requirements include:

  • Fire Extinguishers: Must have appropriate fire extinguishers on board, including Class K extinguishers for grease fires.
  • Fire Suppression System: A functional fire suppression system for trailers with deep fryers or grills.
  • Emergency Exits: Clearly marked and easily accessible emergency exits.

Zoning and Location Restrictions

Operating a food trailer involves adhering to zoning laws and location restrictions. Different cities have specific rules regarding where food trailers can park and operate. Common restrictions include:

  • Proximity to Schools and Hospitals: Some areas restrict food trailers from operating near schools or hospitals.
  • Operating Hours: Regulations on the hours during which food trailers can operate.
  • Parking Restrictions: Rules about where food trailers can park, including distance from brick-and-mortar restaurants.

Marketing and Branding

Business Name and Logo

Choosing a unique business name and creating a professional logo are crucial for branding your food trailer. This helps in establishing a recognizable brand and attracting customers.

Online Presence

Creating a strong online presence through a website and social media platforms can help you reach a wider audience. Share your menu, location updates, and special promotions to engage with customers.


Starting a food trailer business in California involves meeting various requirements, from obtaining the necessary permits to ensuring compliance with health and safety standards. By carefully following these guidelines and utilizing reliable business formation services such as Swyft Filings, Bizee LLC Formation, and Northwest Registered Agent LLC, you can ensure a smooth and successful start to your food trailer business. By staying compliant with all regulations and focusing on quality and safety, you'll be well on your way to serving delicious food to eager customers across California.