Food Program: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


FOOD INSPECTION

What does the "A" card mean in a restaurant?

How does the grading system work for a restaurant?

What is a major violation?

When is a restaurant required to close?

Is there mandatory foodhandler training in San Diego?

What are "expiration" or "sell by" dates on food product labels?

How can I disinfect drinking water?


FOOD INDUSTRY

I'm thinking of buying an existing food business. What do I need to do?

I’m starting a new food business. What do I need to do?

May I sell food from a push cart?

How do I start a food booth at a street fair/temporary event?

May I sell food I make at home?

How do I get a foodhandler card?


FOOD PERMIT

How do I obtain a health permit?

How do I submit a set of plans for plan check?

How do I determine my permit fee for a Food and Housing Division (FHD) Health Permit?

How do I make permit payments?


FOOD INSPECTION

What does the grade card in a restaurant mean?
San Diego County requires all restaurants to post an "A", "B" or "C" card in the front window. The grade represents the food safety and sanitation level observed during the last inspection.

How does the grading system work for a restaurant?
An "A" grade means the facility earned a score of 90 to 100 percent and is in satisfactory compliance with state law; a "B" means the facility earned a score of 80 to 89 percent and needs improvement in operations and/or structure; a "C" means the facility earned a score of 79 percent or less and is a failing grade. Click here for more information on our Food Program.

What is a Major Violation?
There are three levels of violations for a restaurant inspection - Major Violations, Minor Violations and Good Retail Practices. When major violations are found, they are immediately corrected or a suitable alternative is implemented until they are corrected. Examples of major violations include unsafe temperatures of potentially hazardous food, improper handwashing, food from an unapproved source, or improper cleaning and sanitizing of food contact surfaces.

When is a restaurant required to close?
When an imminent health hazard is found, the facility is closed in the impacted areas. If the facility is required to close, the inspector will replace the grade card with a CLOSED sign, and list the reason for closure on the sign. A closed food facility must remain closed until written authorization to re-open is given by this department. All major violations must be corrected or a suitable alternative must be implemented before the facility is granted permission to re-open. The CLOSED sign is then replaced with a grade card. Conditions that require closure of a food facility include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Sewage back-up
  • Lack of potable hot/cold water under pressure
  • Power outage for an extended period of time preventing proper holding temperatures of potentially hazardous foods
  • Disease transmission

Is there mandatory foodhandler training in San Diego?
Yes, San Diego County Code requires all foodhandlers to possess either a valid foodhandler card issued by a county-authorized food handler training school or a County of San Diego foodhandler test administered by the current food safety manager who has passed a state-approved food safety certification exam. Also, California state law requires that each food facility must have at least one owner/ employee that has passed a state-approved food safety certification exam. A list of authorized food handler training schools is available on our "Publications" page or by dialing one of the numbers listed below.

What are "expiration" or "sell by" dates on food product labels?
Mandatory expiration and "sell by" date requirements exist for only a few food products. Dairy products have open dating requirements enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Food And Agriculture. Infant formula is required to bear a date that ensures full nutritional value. Other foods are not required to have an open date, but many consumers expect a date on packages. Date codes and other codes that identify when a product is made ("lot" and "batch" codes) are recommended for most foods. They help manufacturers and retailers to trace and rotate inventories properly. If there is a problem with a particular lot or code, it can be more easily removed from sale. In the event of a recall, failure to have a code on a food product forces the firm to remove all of that product from sale to protect the public.

How can I disinfect drinking water?
Boil for several minutes or add two drops of household bleach per quart of water.


FOOD INDUSTRY

I'm thinking of buying an existing food business. What do I need to do?
You will need to obtain a permit from this Department in your name; permits are not transferable. It is recommended that you visit our main office to review the facility's file.

If the food establishment has been closed for any length of time or is undergoing remodeling, contact the plan check unit at (858) 505-6660 to obtain a plan check consultation before submitting your application.

I'm starting a new food business. What do I need to do?
You will need to submit plans to both DEH (Food & Housing Plan Check and Construction Unit) and the local Building Department. Contact the Plan Check and Construction Unit at (858) 505-6660 for further details. A Construction Guide is available for information about opening a new food business, plan submittal and the plan review/technical assistance application.

May I sell food from a pushcart?
Yes, but you must follow certain guidelines and obtain a permit from this Department. Contact (858) 505-6900 or email fhdutyeh@sdcounty.ca.gov.

How do I start a food booth at a street fair/temporary event?
You must first obtain a permit from this Department before the event. The temporary event application packet provides necessary information and an application. For more information about Temporary Events, please visit our Temporary Event Page. Our duty specialist is available by telephone or email to provide further guidance. Call (858) 505-6900 or email fhdutyeh@sdcounty.ca.gov.

May I sell food I make at home?
A limited list of food may be prepared at home for sale to the public.  Please go to our Cottage Food Operations page for more information.

How do I get a foodhandler card?
To obtain a foodhandler's card, you must attend a foodhandler's class given by a certified school. A list of authorized foodhandler training schools is available here. For more information about our Food Handler Card program please visit sdcountyfoodhandlers.org. Foodhandler cards are valid for three years. Renewals are no longer offered at DEH offices. You will need to be re-certified through an approved training school listed here.

FOOD PERMIT

How do I obtain a health permit?
A public health permit is required by law for all retail food facilities, public swimming pools and spas, and non-owner occupied multi-family housing units. An application and fee must be submitted to a DEH office. Contact our duty specialist at (858) 505-6900 for assistance.

How do I submit a set of plans for plan check?
At least three complete sets of plans and specifications must be submitted to a DEH office. An architect, draftsman, contractor, food facility consultant, or the owner may prepare the plans. Fees charged for review are based on the size of the food establishment. You can call (858) 505-6659 to obtain a fee schedule, technical assistance or to make submittal arrangements. A Construction Guide is available for information about opening a new food business, plan submittal and the plan review/technical assistance application. For more information, please visit our Food Plan check website sdcountyplancheck.org.

How do I determine my permit fee for a Food and Housing Division (FHD) Health Permit?
FHD Health Permit fees are based on the size and type of your business. Call (858) 505-6666 to speak with a Department representative. We can explain the fee schedule to you in detail, or just ask for complete information via fax or mail.

How do I make permit payments?
Permits may be paid by check, cash, money order, or credit card in person at our DEH office in Kearny Mesa, or by mail. For credit card payments from the convenience of your home, please visit www.dehpay.com or contact our Duty Specialist for instructions (858) 505-6900.

County of San Diego
Department of Environmental Health
Food and Housing Division
P.O. Box 129261
San Diego, CA 92112-9261
Attn: Permits