Inspections & Food Sanitation Services

12/28/2022 ECDOH advisory for restaurants that lost power - Recommendations and advice to prevent food poisoning and illness from spoiled foods after a power outage

Program Overview

The Food Sanitation Services program inspects food service establishments, mobile food trucks, temporary food stands and caterers. The program also provides health education and information on safe food handling practices.

Food Facility Inspections

The Division of Environmental Health enforces state and local laws related to food service establishments. Sanitarians and engineers conduct unannounced inspections of these facilities on a routine basis and in response to complaints.

How to Open a Food Service Establishment   

Temporary Food Stand Operator Information

To operate a temporary food stand, you must obtain an Erie County Health Permit and conform with the requirements of the State Sanitary Code for Temporary Food Service Establishments Part 14-2. Operation of a frozen dessert machine requires an additional fee of $25. Your temporary stand is subject to inspection by this Department at any time during its operation to insure compliance with the State Sanitary Code. 

Applications & Fees

File a Complaint

  • Click here or call 716-961-6800 to file a complaint about a restaurant.  To report a food related illness, please call (716) 961-6800.

Food Safety

Related Information and Programs

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

FAQs about restaurants and food service

See below for commonly asked questions.  If you have additional questions, please call the ECDOH Environmental Health Division at 716-961-6800 or send an email to environmental.health@erie.gov.

Can I prepare and sell food or drink items out of my home?

According to public health law, any time food or drinks are sold, the correct permit(s) are required before opening. Permits are needed to make sure that the products are safe for the public.

A temporary food service establishment (FSE) permit is not allowed except for a festival. The definition of a temporary FSE is a place where food is prepared or handled and served to the public, with or without charge, and which operates at a fixed location for a single event or celebration of not more than 14 days in a row.

Also, please keep in mind that most communities restrict commercial businesses in residential areas. They may also require additional permits and/or fees.

What are the rules for opening a home-based bakery?

This is a complex question because there is a division of responsibilities for these facilities between NYS Agriculture & Markets and the Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH). The 3 most common scenarios are described below.

  1. If you want to make baked goods at home, and only sell wholesale to stores, restaurants, etc., then you may need a 20-C Food Processor permit from NY State Agriculture and Markets.
  2. You may be able to get an Exemption from 20-C Food Processor permit from NY State Agriculture and Markets if ALL of the following are met:
    • You are the only employee.
    • You want to use only your existing kitchen equipment and no commercial equipment.
    • You only sell wholesale to restaurants and stores, or sell at a farm, farm stand, craft fair, flea market, farmer's market, and a few other specific locations.
    • You make only certain types of baked goods. 
  3. Under most other situations, the business would be considered a retail bakery and covered under NYS Sanitary Code subpart 14-1, Food Service Establishments.  A permit would be required from the ECDOH to operate. A home kitchen that is part of the living or sleeping area of the residence is not allowed. A separate food service kitchen, separated from living or sleeping quarters by solid self-closing doors, would be required.

Before opening, you will need to contact the city, town, or village where the business is located for additional regulations they may require.

My restaurant serves food at several local events throughout the year. Can I obtain one health permit that would cover all these events?

At this time, blanket temporary food service establishment health permits, that would cover an operator at multiple events, are not allowed by NYS code.

According to NYS Sanitary Code Subpart 14-2, Temporary Food Service Establishments (FSE) means a place which operates at a fixed location in conjunction with a single event of not more than 14 days duration.  Therefore, each temporary FSE permit issued must be specific as to the event and date and can only cover up to 14 days.

An annual catering permit does not allow the holder to serve food to the public at a temporary event.  NYS Sanitary code defines a caterer as person who prepares, furnishes, or prepares and furnishes food, intended for individual portion service, at the premises of the consumer.  Caterers are not allowed to sell or give away food directly to the public.  They are only allowed to provide individual portion service to the individual or group that hired them and at that location, such as a private home or leased/rented location.

A possible option, for an operator working at many events during a year and looking to control permit costs, may be to develop a mobile food service establishment or pushcart which would qualify for an annual permit. These units must follow the requirements of NYSSC 14-4 and must be operated in conjunction with a commissary. While the initial cost for the units themselves can be high, the annual permit allows these units to set up and serve to the public at any appropriate location throughout the County (subject to local municipal zoning and vending ordinances) for the entire year.

We are hosting a food contest. Does each vendor need a permit to participate in the event?  Does it make a difference whether or not the vendor serves food samples?

A permit is only required if the vendor/participant is serving food, with or without charge, to the public. Event judges are not considered the public. If you are serving food to judges only, then you do not need a permit. 

The NYS Sanitary Code treats both free sampling and selling as service to the public and requires a permit. Erie County does not currently have a blanket permit option for temporary food service operations. There is a maximum fee of $1,000 per operator at an event, but this would only apply if a single operator (corporation, individual or organization) was listed as the responsible party for several stands that would exceed $1,000 in total fees.

We would like to hold a bake sale. What do we need to do?

The NY State Sanitary Code §14-1.20 excludes from the definition of a food service establishment those “food service operations where a distinct group mutually provides, prepares, serves and consumes the food such as a ‘covered dish supper’ limited to a congregation, club, or fraternal organization.”  A permit is not required when a bake sale is held in a manner such that the food is prepared by and sold exclusively to members of a distinct group and where the public is not invited, such as a school bake sale held by a parent-teacher association, or a church bake sale held by church members.

When a bake sale is open to the public, such as at a lawn fete or similar community event, then a temporary food establishment permit is usually required.  All requirements of NY State Sanitary Code subpart 14-2 also apply, including those related to approved sources of food.

Exceptions to the temporary food establishment permit requirement may apply when the community event is considered a retail agricultural venue, such as a farmer’s market, flea market, or craft fair. Those events would fall under NY State Agriculture and Markets regulation.  Contact NY State Agriculture and Markets for their requirements.

How many sinks are required for a street vendor serving food or drinks?

Most street vendor food and beverage carts are regulated as Pushcarts by the ECDOH and would be required to comply with NYS Sanitary Code Subpart 14-4.

Subpart 14-4.141 requires pushcarts to have handwashing facilities for the operator. This handwashing facility must have clean, potable (drinkable) water, soap or detergent, a receptacle to hold wastewater, and paper towels. This would be the only "sink" required to be on the pushcart.

However, code 14-4.31(b) also requires pushcarts to be operated in conjunction with a Mobile Food Service Establishment Commissary which is used as the base of operations for one or more pushcarts, where such unit or units are serviced, cleaned, supplied, maintained, and where the equipment, utensils, and facilities are serviced, cleaned, and sanitized. This commissary is required to have additional sinks (such as a 3-basin sink for manual ware-washing of pans, utensils, etc.) and other equipment/facilities (storage, bathrooms, etc.) that the pushcart operator would use before and after the pushcart was taken to the food service location.

How hot does water need to be for hand washing?

The temperature of water is not as important as the rubbing action of the hands with soap followed by rinsing with clean water. The water should be warm enough to allow the person to comfortably wash their hands long enough to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice. A comfortable water temperature for most people is between 110-120 degrees. To prevent scalding, the water should never be hotter than 120 degrees. For more information, go to cdc.gov/handhygiene.

Are employees required to wear gloves when preparing food?

Bare hand contact with any food, including ice, that does not receive heat treatment before serving is a violation of the sanitary code. To comply, use suitable utensils, such as tongs or spoons, deli paper, napkins, or sanitary gloves. Examples where hand contact cannot happen are making sandwiches, slicing cold cuts and cheeses, tossing salads, and assembling fresh fruit or vegetable platters. The same cross-contamination problems with contaminated bare hands (i.e., transfer of bacteria from raw food to ready-to-eat food) can occur with inappropriate glove use. Therefore, if gloves are used, you must make sure they are changed at appropriate times, such as after touching raw food or non-food items and before touching ready-to-eat food.

Are restaurant staff required to be trained in ServSafe® or another safe food handling program?

NY State amended its Public Health Law to require restaurants to employ at least one person trained and certified in food safety. For this law to be implemented, the NY State Department of Health must announce these regulations. We have been told that the NY State Sanitary Code for Food Service Establishments is in the process of being updated and will include this new requirement. The specific courses that will be accepted, and how often they will need to be renewed, have not been finalized at this time. Further information will be posted when it is available.

Do I have to pull my hair back or wear a hair net while working in a restaurant?

The NY State Food Code requires all people in a food service establishment, who work in areas where food is prepared, to use hats, caps, or hair nets to reduce hair contact with hands, food, and food-contact surfaces. Each employer may have work rules that exceed this code requirement.

Is it a violation of sanitary code for food workers (including bartenders and wait staff) to handle food after touching money with gloves?

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Retail Food Protection Branch says that money is not as heavily laden with microorganisms as commonly believed. Microorganisms cannot survive well on inanimate objects because of the lack of proper temperature, moisture, and nutrients necessary for them to reproduce. (Source: NYSDOH Environmental Health Manual).

Therefore, touching money with gloves and then handling food without first removing or changing the gloves is not a violation under current NYSDOH regulations. However, this practice creates a concern with the public and leads to many complaints. Therefore, food service operators are encouraged, but can't be required, to stop this practice and separate job tasks whenever they can.

Does a restaurant have to have a separate employee restroom or a family restroom?

The NY State Sanitary Code 14-1 for food service establishments requires that appropriate, conveniently located and properly installed toilet and hand washing facilities be provided for employee use.  These facilities must be maintained, supplied, and open at all times.

Separate men's and women's bathrooms for employees are required when there are 5 or more employees.

Bathrooms for the public are required when the facility has a seating capacity of 20 people or more. 

There is no requirement that dedicated employee bathrooms must be provided, and there is no mention of family bathrooms. 

Please check with your local city, town, or village Building Code enforcement office to see if the Uniform Building Code or local laws have additional requirements.

Is it illegal to smoke in bars and restaurants?

Yes. Effective July 24, 2003, the New York State Clean Indoor Air Act (Public Health Law, Article 13-E) bans smoking in workplaces, restaurants and bars. The protects workers from secondhand smoke.

Are service animals allowed in restaurants?

See the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) about service animals.

Contact

Environmental Health Division
503 Kensington Ave
Buffalo, NY 14214
Phone: (716) 961-6800
Fax: (716) 961-6880
For Emergencies after regular business hours: 716-961-7898