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If you want to start a business making, selling, or distributing food, you likely will need to register your business for a food licence. This means that your business is handling and dealing with food safely, and in line with New Zealand’s food and safety standards. That way, customers know that they can trust the food they are eating, and you do not open yourself to any legal troubles. Your business can deal with food in various ways, so it may be hard to understand what kind of food licence you need for your business. This article will explain how food licensing works in NZ and how you can register your food business.

Food Licensing in NZ

In NZ, there are four steps to becoming a licensed food business. These are to:

  1. find out what kind of plan or programme you need;
  2. create your plan;
  3. verify your business; and
  4. register your business.

Food licensing plans depend on how much risk is associated with the way your business is handling food. The higher the risk is of something going wrong with your food, the stricter the rules you have to follow. There is a higher chance of food contamination when you are sourcing or making the food than storing or transporting the food in sealed containers. What kind of licence and plan you use will depend on what you do with food as part of your business.

Every food business in NZ needs rules for how you handle food. There are two types of rule schemes:

  • food control plans; and
  • national programmes.

To determine which one your business needs, the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) has a useful questionnaire you can complete on their website. You will answer a series of questions about how your business deals with food and the level of associated risk with that. If you are a high-risk business, such as a bakery or restaurant, then you need written procedures about how you plan to handle and prepare food. Here, you will need a food control plan. If you are a low-risk business, like a food delivery company or local dairy, you will use a national programme’s broader rules.

When Don’t I Need a Plan or Programme?

There are some exemptions to this licensing scheme, namely when your food sales would not qualify as commercial business under the Food Act. You would qualify for such an exemption if you are selling food:

  • for fundraising less than 20 times year;
  • at a one-off event like an annual school fair;
  • that has been made or provided by club members for club events, where food is not part of the event’s primary purpose.

You still have to follow safe food guidelines and regulations, but you do not have to apply for any particular licence.

For example, if you have a sausage sizzle to raise money for your local rugby club, you do not have to register with MPI.

What Do I Need in My Food Control Plan?

If your business is the kind that needs a food control plan, then you can use a template from MPI, or make your own. Most businesses will start with a template food control plan and tailor it to their specific needs. If you want to make your own, you just have to satisfy MPI that your plan is up to the same food safety standards. 

Generally, your food control plan should cover:

  • what kind of food you are making;
  • where you are making it;
  • how you are preparing and sourcing the food;
  • what risks are involved;
  • how you would manage those risks;
  • who is responsible for this process; and
  • what you plan to do if something goes wrong.

Verifying Your Plan or Programme

Once you have sorted what kind of rules you need to follow and have drawn up how you plan to do so, you need to have your plan or programme verified. Either your local council or an independent verification agency can do this.

You will be verified when you are just starting your business and you will have inspections throughout the course of your business as well. How frequent these are will depend on the inherent risk involved with food at your business.

Registering Your Food Business

After you have been verified, then you are ready to register your new food business. If you are going to be mainly based in one area, you would usually apply to your local council. 

If you are going to be in multiple locations, you may need to apply to multiple councils or MPI directly. Registration depends on:

  • the type of food control plan or national programme you use; and
  • where you are applying.

If you are using a custom food control plan, you will need to apply directly with MPI. When registering, it is important also to know what other kinds of licences you may need. This could include:

  • resource consents for your premises;
  • an alcohol licence;
  • an outdoor dining licence; or
  • a mobile trading licence.

Key Takeaways

If you wish to open a food business in NZ, you need to determine what kind of rules would apply to your business. This will affect what type of licence you need and depends on how you deal with food in your business and the risk level. If you would like more information or help with your food business, contact LegalVision’s New Zealand regulatory and compliance lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.


Do I need a food licence for my business?

If you are selling food commercially, you need to be registered and have a verified food control plan or national programme. This ensures that your food is following health guidelines, and you are handling it in a way that means it is safe for consumers.

How do I get a food licence?

You can become a registered business that is licensed to sell food by applying to your local council or the Ministry of Primary Industries. How and where you do so will depend on what kind of food business you are.

Can I prepare food at home and sell it?

Yes, but where you prepare your food has to be in line with national health and safety standards. This would mean that a verifier would come and inspect your home kitchen to ensure that it is up to these standards. You would also need to register your food business.

Can you sell food without a licence?

You can generally sell food without a licence if you are not selling food for commercial purposes. This typically means fundraising, or for one-off events like a school fair.

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