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Missoula County Environmental Health: Licensed Establishments

Health Division: Environmental Health
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June 1, 2011

The Great Mystery of Catering

Lately I have been noticing a lot of establishments and operators who are confused about catering.  Hopefully I can clear things up for readers out there.  Here are the most common questions/misconceptions:

1: Anyone can be a caterer.  Not true.  You need to fit the definition of a caterer in the Missoula City-County Health Code and be appropriately licensed.  The Health Code defines "Catering"  as 'a person who prepares food in a licensed facility, transports it and serves it at private events or public functions'. 

2. I have a license with a 'food service establishment' endorsement; that gives me the ability to cater.  The only license that allows you to cater is a license with a catering endorsement.  If you currently do not have this endorsement and would like to expand your operation, you must apply at the health department. 

3. Why is review required?  Catering means that you will be handling large quantities of food, most likely cooling and reheating, which increases the risk level of your operation.  We need to make sure that things like adequate storage and refrigeration are available, as well as knowledge on higher risk procedures.  Catering also pulls you out of your kitchen and we need to make sure that you have the ability to setup properly outside of your facility.  You must have a way to transport foods in temperature and setup hand wash stations, supply overhead and ground cover, and insure proper cold and hot holding onsite.

4. If I have a catering endorsement, I can do any kind of event.  As per the City-County Health Code, your catering endorsement only applies to events which you have been contracted to do for a set amount of goods and services.  If you are charging by the plate at an event, or if there is no contract in place, your catering license does not cover it and you must get a Temporary Food Service license. 

5) If I only do private events, I do not need to be licensed.  That is not true.  Your intent is for anyone in the public to be able to hire you for any kind of event and therefore it is considered public food service and you must be licensed. 

6) If I work for a licensed kitchen, or have access to a commercial kitchen, I do not need to license as a caterer.  Licensing is more than just verifying that you have a commercial kitchen space from which to work.  Licensing comes down to responsibility and liability.  Whoever is responsible for the food, must have a license.  Working out of someone's kitchen without your own catering license is against the law.

7) If I have a mobile, I can cater.  Again, not necessarily true.  It would depend on your mobile/commissary setup, your refrigeration capacity and how you distribute on site.  In order to work under your mobile license, you must operate as a mobile, in your mobile.  If you set up extra service areas, prep areas, or tents to accommodate the event, you are no longer operating as a mobile.

For those of you who would like to add a catering endorsement to your current license, please contact me about a catering plan review at 258-4755.

April 1, 2011

No Foolin'-- Failure to Complete Change of Ownership Can Result in Closure

Recently several businesses changed ownership without completing the Change of Ownership review and licensing process.  The operators had to stop service until the process could be completed and a license issued.  As many of you know, licenses are not transferrable to new locations or owners, and any facility upgrades must be completed before a new license may be issued.  This can be a very discouraging experience for any new business owner.  Not only do they need to pay for a new license, but the time it takes to review their application, upgrade their equipment and facility issues, and get the pre-opening inspection can amount to down business days and expenses for which they didn't budget.

As current operators, help out those who are new to the food service industry.  When you go to sell your business, let the new operator know they need to contact the health department, and then let us know of the impending change as outlined in the City-County Health Code.  That way everyone is informed and aware of the effort and time it may take to get a new business going.  If we start with all of the information needed, the process can be seamless and hopefully painless!

Administrative/Licensing; Plan Review/Facility
January 14, 2011

Late Renewals Can Result in Closure!

As all of you in the food industry know, the state sent out renewal forms last year to remind everyone that licenses expired December 31, 2010.  We received word this week that there are still several licenses that have not been renewed.  If this is you, please do so asap because all licenses that have not been renewed by February 28, 2011 will be closed!  That means, you cannot operate and until you go through the relicensing process which may include plan review and upgrades. 

If you have not received your renewal form, or have questions regarding the renewal process, please call Gail Macklin of DPHHS at 406-444-2415.

September 27, 2010

Change in License Renewals

With only a few months left in 2010, license renewal time is almost here.  The state would like people to be aware of the following:

1) There will be no grace period this year.  If you do not renew your license by December 31, 2010, a $25 late fee will be assessed.  The only exception to this policy will be if the late payment is due to an error on the part of the state.

2) If you do not receive your renewal form by the end of November, contact the state.

3) If you have changed your mailing address, please contact the state to ensure on time license renewal. 

If you have any questions regarding licensing or renewals, please contact

August 23, 2010

It's Not Just About The Grade

Okay, I will be the first to admit-- I was one of those kids.  I loved the first day of school, thought recess was a waste of time, purred over the smell of a freshly sharpened pencil and yes-- loved report card time.  I was doped over the very idea of getting a grade, but now, being in a position where people ask me all the time to grade them, my attitude has changed.  I have come to realize that grades have a time and place.  While letter grades make complete sense with math and science, using them in food establishments doesn't work with our particular inspection approach.  Why?  Simple-- a grade is unable to fully capture a risk-based inspection. 

When we inspect an establishment here in Missoula, we look at the "Big Five" -- Time and Temperature Abuse, Poor Hygiene and Handling, Cross-Contamination, Unsafe Sources and Improper Cleaning and Sanitizing.  Deficiencies in these areas are most likely to cause food borne illness.  During the inspection, we not only discuss problems in these areas with the operator, we also take into account the nature of the violation, or how widespread and serious it is.  There are degrees to critical violations.  It's not the number of violations but the extent in which things are out compliance and the potential for illness.  Capturing this in a number would be unfair and, under the former scoring system, could be misleading.  For instance, an establishment could have all of their food out of temperature and still get an "A", throw in missed hand washes after the bathroom and raw meat handling and they could still get a "B".  These are the ingredients for a major outbreak, yet an establishment with one hot and one cold item out of temperature and missed hand washes after glove changes would get the same grades respectively, even though they have less illness potential.  Needless to say, we prefer not to assign as distracting letter grade and stick with our descriptive approach.  This way, operators can focus on food safety concerns rather than the grade and we can keep establishments safer with a better working relationship.

So-- consider us a resource.  We do not work off of checklists, nor do we handout tickets and score cards.  Our goal is to help establishments operate in their safest capacity, not help them increase their food GPA.  However.... we do hold operator-inspector conferences in the form of quarterly food classes :) -- cookies not included and parents need not attend!

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