General Licensing Requirements

The first step to determining the licenses, registrations, and certifications you will need requires deciding on:

1) your market outlet, and

2) the jurisdiction(s) in which you will sell your product.

Retail markets are those where you sell directly to the consumer—the consumer pays you and receives the product (examples are farmers’ markets, roadside stands, CSAs, food carts). A wholesale market is one where you sell to another business who pays you for the product, and then sells your product to the consumer (examples include Farm to School programs, restaurants, retail stores, and institutions such as universities and hospitals).

In Colorado, counties and cities may have different licensing and regulatory requirements, so be sure to consult with authorities in each jurisdiction. Note that this is always the case for the city and county of Denver.

Remember to note the renewal date for each license you obtain, as some licenses may be issued by the calendar year and others based on a different dating system (such as one year from date of issue).  To check on other types of business licenses in Colorado counties and cities, check with each jurisdiction by referring to: Colorado county websites and Colorado municipal websites.

Retail Food Establishment

Definition: A Retail Food Establishment is a retail operation that stores, prepares, or packages food for human consumption or serves or otherwise provides food for human consumption to consumers directly or indirectly through a delivery service, whether such food is consumed on or off the premises or whether there is a charge for such food. Examples of retail food establishments include farmers markets, push carts, vending carts, food vendors, chile roasters, and street vendors.

General Information: A Retail Food Establishment License is normally issued by the local county health department where the vendor is based. Vendors must supply a Colorado sales tax account number in order to receive a license. A licensed commercial kitchen is required for preparation of food. Operators must report at least daily to that location for all supplies and for all cleaning and servicing operations. Contact health department BEFORE constructing or remodeling facility. Equipment used to transport and store food must meet minimum standards. There are limits on types of foods that can be sold. “Potentially hazardous food” is defined as: a) if it is of animal origin such as meat, milk, fish, shellfish, edible crustacea, or poultry; or b) if it is of plant origin and has been heat treated; or c) if it is raw seed sprouts. Colorado Retail Food Establishment Rules and Regulations for more information. Vendors must comply with local requirements in every city or unincorporated county area were sales are made including but not limited to: special mobile food unit or peddlers licenses, traffic and location regulations.

How to get started: Begin by completing a  plan review, then contact the state or local board of health to obtain an application for a retail food establishment license. Before granting a license, the state or local board of health may visit and inspect the retail food establishment or property the applicant proposes to conduct business. If the applicant can operate in accordance with the retail food requirements the department of health will approve the application.

The license much be conspicuously displayed at all times in the licensed establishment. The license is valid for one calendar year, or the remaining portion of the year after obtaining the license. When a license is valid for only a portion of the calendar year, there will be no reduction in fees. All licenses will expire on December 31st in the year in which they are granted and renewal applications should be filed with the department of health during December of each year. Once a license has been granted, the state or local department of health will not refuse to renew license unless the licensee has engaged in an unlawful act or is in violation of the Retail Food Establishment rules.

Retail Food Establishment Fees: A retail food establishment preparing or serving food in individual portions for immediate on- or off-premises consumption shall be assessed an annual fee based on the following schedule:

Seating Capacity Fee:
0 to 100  $255
101 to 200  $285
Over 200  $310

A retail food establishment offering food for retail sale to consumers for off-premises consumption shall be assessed an annual fee based on the following schedule:

Square Footage Fee
Less than 3,500  $115
3,501 to 15,000  $180
15,001 to 25,000  $200
25,001 to 45,000  $235

The fee structure at a a farmers’ market is treated differently. Fees are based on the product offerings.

Unwrapped bakery items for immediate consumption: $255
Unwrapped bakery items for off-premise consumption: $115
Foods for immediate consumption (restaurant-like): $255
Foods for off premise consumption (grocery-like): $115

Note: Fees can change, please contact your local health department

Wholesale

If you would like to sell wholesale, contact the buyers you would like to work with directly to determine those requirements that are  business specific in addition to those required by the state and local governments.

Registration for Selling or Distributing Processed Goods

Definition:You are considered a wholesaler if you are processing food to sell to a retail food establishment; including restaurants, grocery stores, food products or ingredients to other food manufacturers, or are a grain elevator, repacker, or warehouse for food distribution. Refer to the full definition of retail food establishment.

Rules: Consumers can begin their own food processing business by registering with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Division of Environmental Health and Sustainability. This registration requirement was mandated by a State statute change that became effective July 1, 2003, and applies to every storage facility and wholesale food manufacturer in Colorado. In addition to the registration requirement, there may also be either a license or permit that must be purchased from your local health department. It is advised that those consumers interested in beginning their own wholesale food business contact the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Division of Environmental Health and Sustainability as well as their local health department for details regarding registration, license and permit requirements.

Detailed rules on wholesale food manufacturing information from the CDPHE.

License for Selling Raw Agricultural Farm Products Produced by Someone Else: Farm Product Dealers License

Colorado state law (C.R.S. 12-16-104) requires that anyone who purchases farm products for processing or resale MUST have a valid Colorado Farm Products dealer license prior to the purchase for processing or resale.

Who is considered a dealer?

  • Any person engaged in buying any farm products from the owner for processing or resale;
  • Any person engaged in receiving and taking possession of any farm products from the owner for storage or safekeeping;
  • Any person engaged in soliciting or negotiating sales of farm products between the vendor and purchaser respectively;
  • Any person who receives on consignment or solicits from the owner thereof any kind of farm product for sale on commission on behalf of such owner, or who accepts any farm product in trust from the owner thereof for the purpose of resale, or who sells or offers for sale on commission any farm product or in any way handles any farm product for the account of, or as an agent of, the owner thereof; or
  • After June 30, 1994, any person engaged in buying any farm products from the owner thereof for the commercial feeding of more than two thousand five hundred head of livestock at any one time which are owned, wholly or in part, by another.

Dealer does not include bona fide retail grocery merchants or restaurateurs having a fixed or established place of business in Colorado as long as the use of farm products by any such person is directly related to the operation of the person’s retail grocery or restaurant.

What is considered a farm product? Farm products includes the following unprocessed products produced in Colorado or owned by any Colorado resident, dealer, or small-volume dealer:

  • Agricultural, horticultural, viticulture, fruit, and vegetable products of the soil;
  • Livestock and livestock products, except livestock held by the purchaser and not resold or processed within ninety days after the purchase date;
  • Milk; and
  • Honey.
  • The term also includes ensiled corn and baled, cubed, or ground hay.
  • “Farm products” does not include poultry and poultry products, timber products, nursery stock, or commodities.

If you purchase processed farm products, you do not need a Farm Product Dealer License. Processing means the operation of drying, canning, fermenting, distilling, extracting, preserving, grinding, crushing, flaking, mixing, or otherwise changing the form of a farm product for the purpose of reselling the product.

Fact sheet on farm product dealer license

For more information consult the Colorado Department of Agriculture website farm products section and the forms and downloads section.

Colorado Department of Agriculture, Farm Products Program
2331 W. 31st. Ave
Denver, CO 80211
Phone: (303) 477-0054

License for Selling Raw Commodities Produced by Someone Else: Commodity Handler License

If you wish to buy and sell unprocessed small, hard seeds or fruits such as wheat, corn, oats, barley, rye, sunflower seeds, soybeans, beans, grain sorghum you need a Commodity Handler License. To obtain a Commodity Handler license, you must submit an application, pay license and inspection fees, submit a financial statement and post a surety bond. See steps below:

  • Handler must first obtain a bond. See the  bonding schedule to determine the bond amount you will be required. There are two options that meet bonding requirements
  1. Surety Bond through your insurance
  2. Letter of Credit through your bank (refer to rules regarding use of letter of credits.)

If you are conducting business as an Individual/Sole Proprietor, you must fill out a Commodity Handler Citizenship Status Affidavit .

  • Completely fill out the Commodity Handler License Application.
  • The license fee is $350.00 annually with a license period of March 1 through the end of February of each year.
  • The Commodity Handler Inspection fee is based on annual purchases of Colorado commodities. Refer to the fee schedule to determine your inspection fee.
  • Submit a copy of your most current financial statement. Financial statements submitted in support of a license application are confidential. To maintain confidentiality, submit financial statement to the attention of Mark Gallegos at the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s physical address.

Return the original bond, affidavit, application and fees to the mailing address. For more information consult the Colorado Department of Agriculture website farm products section.

License for Selling to K-12 Schools

Food served by the school but not prepared on site shall be obtained from sources inspected and approved by the Colorado Department of Education. The food shall be transported, stored and served in a manner to prevent contamination or adulteration. For wholesale packaging guidelines. To establish a relationship with the food service staff, contact your local school district and ask for the Food Service Nutrition Director. Look up district contact information at the Colorado Department of Education.

Related Links: