General FAQs - Retail Food Establishments


Why is it necessary to permit and inspect retail food operations?

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that approximately 76 million cases of foodborne illness occur each year, resulting in 5 thousand deaths. This alone, as well as the billions of dollars these illnesses cost the consumers and the industry each year, makes continuous improvement in the areas of food safety and sanitation a goal shared jointly by both the food industries and those with responsibility for regulatory oversight. These senseless deaths caused from mishandling foods can be reduced by providing regulatory oversight of retail food operations.


What type of retail food businesses need a retail food permit?

A firm must have a retail food establishment permit if any food or beverage preparation is conducted. A firm that offers any type of potentially hazardous food must also have a retail food establishment permit. An permit is not required if a firm only offers prepackaged non-potentially hazardous food, such as bottled drinks or snacks, or offers whole, uncut produce.


How can I obtain a Retail Food Establishment Application?

A Retail Food Permit Application may be obtained by contacting the Foods Licensing Group at (512) 834-6626. The applications can also be downloaded from the Food Establishments Licensing page.


What are the Texas Food Establishment Rules (TFER)?

The TFER is a comprehensive set of rules for the regulation of retail food establishments. These rules are based on the current FDA Model Food Code. In these rules, food establishments include: restaurants, grocery stores, mobile food vendors, temporary food establishments, roadside food vendors and others. A copy of the TFER can be downloaded from the Food Establishments Laws & Rules page.


Do local city/county health departments need to adopt the TFER?

Yes, these are the minimum standards for all retail food establishments in the state, whether they are under city, county, public health district, or state jurisdiction. A model city ordinance and a model county order are available from the Model Orders and Ordinances page.


Is there an inspection form to be used with the TFER?

Yes, a form is included with the rules. The form focuses on controlling those factors most often associated with foodborne illness. A copy of the inspection form can be downloaded from the Food Establishments Publications page.


What are the minimum requirements to open a retail food establishment?

DSHS has regulatory jurisdiction and enforces the TFER in those areas of the state that do not have a city ordinance or county order that addresses the regulation of retail food establishments. While we strive for uniformity between DSHS and the local health departments, please be aware that local agencies have the prerogative to be more stringent and also that their requirements may be somewhat different from those of DSHS. Since they are the permitting and inspectional agencies responsible for their respective jurisdictions, you should contact them directly. For those establishments under DSHS jurisdiction, there are three documents posted on this website that specify most of the minimum requirements for fixed retail food establishments (restaurants and grocery stores), mobile food establishments, and temporary food establishments:


What is a Time/temperature Control for Safety (TCS) food?

The Texas Food Establishment Rules’ definition for TCS states that a TCS food means a food that requires time/temperature control for safety to limit pathogenic microorganism growth or toxin formation. An animal food that is raw or heat-treated. A plant food that is heat-treated or consists of raw seed sprouts, cut melons, cut leafy greens, cut tomatoes or mixture of cut tomatoes that are not modified in a way so that they are unable to support pathogenic microorganism growth or toxin formation, or garlic-in-oil mixtures that are not modified in a way so that they are unable to support pathogenic microorganism growth or toxin formation. It also states a food that, because of the interaction of Aw and pH values, is designated as Product Assessment Required.

How do I file a complaint?

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) will investigate a complaint that pertains to a retail food establishment located in an area where DSHS has regulatory jurisdiction. DSHS has regulatory jurisdiction and enforces the TFER in those areas of the state that are not permitted or inspected by a local health authority. You should contact the appropriate local health department, if your complaint pertains to an establishment located in an area with a local health department. Please see the "Complaint Process" page for information on filing a complaint or contact the Food Establishment Group at (512) 834-6753, if you would like to discuss your complaint, file a complaint by telephone, or find the contact information for the appropriate local health department.

Last updated October 21, 2015