CIFS Guide to

Opening a Food Business in Alberta

Each municipality in Alberta has specific requirements for opening a food business. Learn more about what's required.
Opening a Food Business in Alberta

Each municipality in Alberta has specific requirements for opening a food business. To confirm the requirements in your area, we highly recommend that you contact your local municipal office. 

The food and hospitality industry is dynamic, fast-paced and requires careful planning. Not only does this demonstrate to potential investors that you understand every aspect of your business and its ability to generate profit, it’s also just common sense. 

Leaping into this highly competitive industry without knowing your business objectives and strategies, financial forecasts and target market can be a costly mistake. 

So, before you do anything else, make sure that you:

  • create a business plan 
  • choose a business structure 
  • look into what permits and licences you may need

In This Resource


Introduction

Each municipality in Alberta has specific requirements for opening a food business. To confirm the requirements in your area, we highly recommend that you contact your local municipal office. 

The food and hospitality industry is dynamic, fast-paced and requires careful planning. Not only does this demonstrate to potential investors that you understand every aspect of your business and its ability to generate profit, it’s also just common sense. 

Leaping into this highly competitive industry without knowing your business objectives and strategies, financial forecasts and target market can be a costly mistake. 

So, before you do anything else, make sure that you:

  • create a business plan 
  • choose a business structure 
  • look into what permits and licences you may need

BUSINESS PLAN

Preparing your business plan will help you to focus on how to operate your new business and give it the best chance for success.  It will help you set realistic and timely goals, secure external funding, measure your success, specify operational requirements and establish reasonable financial forecasts. 

Find out how to write a business plan. 

Download a free business plan template.

CHOOSE A BUSINESS STRUCTURE

The three common types of business structure are:

  • sole proprietorship
  • partnership
  • incorporation

Each structure has different legal and financial implications. Find out how to choose the right business structure for your business.

CONTACT YOUR LOCAL MUNICIPAL OFFICE

One of the first steps in starting your new business should be contacting the municipal office for the municipality your food business will be located in for information on Alberta Building Code requirements and local zoning ordinances. 

Your local municipal office will also be able to assist you in determining what permits you will need and the most suitable business licence for your business. You can also use BizPaL to generate a list of permits and licences based on your location.

Note: At this stage, you may not be ready to actually apply for certain permits or licences, but you should be doing some research about which ones you’ll need based on where you live and what you want to do with your business.

Your local municipal office will also be able to direct you to the various departments you’ll need to contact, both provincial and municipal, such as:

  • Planning and Development (municipal)
  • Fire Department, Fire Prevention Bureau (municipal)
  • Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) (provincial)
  • Alberta Health Services (provincial)
  • Alberta Health Services, Environmental Public Health Department (municipal)

We encourage you to complete this step early. Call before signing any agreements to get an understanding of your approval timeline and verify any unexpected requirements.


Location and Zoning

It’s your responsibility to ensure that you comply with all applicable legislation. Legislation includes local zoning bylaws and building, fire, electrical, plumbing, ventilation and licensing codes under the Safety Codes Act

In order to obtain a Food Handling Permit from Alberta Health Services, Environmental Public Health Department you must comply with the following:

  1. Alberta Food Regulation
  2. Alberta Food Retail and Food Services Code 
  3. Alberta Dishwashing Standard

All food establishments operating in Alberta must obtain a Food Handling Permit. 

Go to the Permits and Licences section for more information about obtaining a Food Handling Permit.

PLAN YOUR MENU

There are at least a couple of reasons why you should plan your menu well in advance:

  1. Knowing what foods or types of food you’re going to prepare / sell will help you choose a location that is zoned for the type of business you want to operate. 
  2. A sample menu, or information about the types of food you intend to prepare, serve or sell, must be submitted to your local Environmental Public Health office in order to get approval to open or renovate your food business. 

At a minimum, your local Environmental Public Health office needs to know what kind of food you’re planning to prepare so they can determine whether or not the facility is suitably designed and meets infrastructure requirements for that use. 

CHOOSE A LOCATION

Now that you’ve done your research, you need a location. Before you buy or lease a space to operate your food business, or buy or lease an operating business, consider: 

  • municipal zoning restrictions
  • renovations you may be required to make
  • reviewing your lease with a lawyer 

Municipal zoning restrictions

The business location you choose has to be zoned for the type of business you want to operate. Before signing a lease, call your local Planning and Development office to confirm that the location you’re considering is approved for your type of business, even if the location you’re considering was a food business previously. 

If your municipality does not have a local Planning and Development office, call your local municipal office. Never expect zoning to be changed to accommodate your business. 

Factors to consider when reviewing the zoning of a potential location include:

  • permitted uses
  • hours of operation
  • hours for serving alcohol
  • permitted outdoor serving or patio areas
  • washroom facilities for your intended capacity
  • adequate parking

Depending on the location and your plans for the business, you may be required to obtain a:

  • Certificate of Conformance / Certificate of Compliance 
  • Development Permit 

If you are looking to purchase or lease a turnkey restaurant — one that requires no building or renovation, is in a condition that is ready-to-operate and which will be used for the same type of use (“same to same”) — you probably won’t require either of the above, but always call to confirm

Renovations that may be required

It’s important to consider any necessary construction before you purchase or sign a lease. Even if you’re just leasing the space, you may be required to pay for renovations, which can be expensive and can cause costly delays. 

Getting a bargain on a lease or property is great, but building permits and construction costs can quickly add up. You may find that you can purchase or lease a space for cheaper than it costs to bring another location up to code. 

Reviewing your lease

Before you sign a lease, it’s a good idea to have a lawyer, notary, chartered accountant or other legal representative review your lease for any unusual requirements or clauses. 


Register Your Business

Now that you have your location, it’s time to register your business. 

REGISTER WITH THE PROVINCE

There are four steps to registering your business name in Alberta:

  1. Choose a business name
  2. Get a business name report (optional)
  3. Find an authorized registry agent
  4. Take your information to an authorized registry agent

CHOOSE A BUSINESS NAME

Business names don’t have to be unique (duplicate business names may exist), however, if you choose a name that is the same as, or similar to, an existing business name, corporation name or trademark, the owners could take your business to court. You could be ordered to change your name or pay damages to the intellectual property owners.

GET A BUSINESS NAME REPORT

To avoid any legal issues down the line, it’s a good idea to get a business name report before registering your business name. This step is recommended, but not mandatory.

The report contains registered business, corporation and trademark names that are similar to the business name you want. The report is provided by authorized NUANS members. Find a NUANS service provider.

FIND AN AUTHORIZED REGISTRY AGENT

Authorized registry agents offer registration, information and licensing services on behalf of the government. A registry agent will charge a service fee to review and record your information in Alberta’s Corporate Registry computer system. 

Note: Registrations are grouped into three service levels, depending on the complexity of the service. A declaration of a new partnership or trade name is classed as a basic service, so any authorized service provider should be able to do this for you. 

Service fees are not regulated and may vary from one agent to another, so you’ll want to shop around to get the best price. Search for a Registry Agent online or download the Registry Agent Product Catalogue for a list of services and fees. 

TAKE YOUR INFORMATION TO AN AUTHORIZED REGISTRY AGENT

Because all corporate registry information is keyed directly into the Corporate Registry computer system (CORES) by your registry agent, you do not need to fill out any forms in order to register your business. 

However, to make sure you’ve collected all the information your agent requires, it’s often helpful to use a sample form. For a sole proprietorship or partnership, you can download the sample forms below (or create your own):

When you have all the information you need, go to an authorized service provider with:

  • your business name information
  • business name report (if you got one)
  • valid ID
  • fee payment

If you meet the requirements, your business name will be entered into the Corporate Registry and you’ll receive a proof of filing.

REGISTER WITH THE CRA

Businesses with $30,000 a year or more in gross revenue may be required to collect GST. To register a GST account, call the Canada Revenue Agency at 1-800-959-5525 or visit http://businessregistration.gc.ca.

If you plan on hiring employees, you will also need to set up a Payroll Account Number with the Canada Revenue Agency. Call the CRA at 1-800-959-5525, press the star (*) button to speak to an agent or click here to register online

When you register for a CRA program account, you will be assigned a federal Business Number (BN) if you don’t already have one. The federal BN is different from the provincial BIN and is required if you incorporate or need a CRA program account (e.g. GST account, payroll deductions, etc.).

If you already have a BN, any CRA program accounts you sign up for will be added to your BN, so your business will only ever have one business number. 

In summary, you will need (or will be assigned) a BN if you intend to do any of the following:

  • collect GST
  • pay employees
  • incorporate 
  • import or sell goods or services abroad
  • make $30,000 or more per year

(So there’s a good chance your business is going to need one.)


Permits and Licences

BUSINESS LICENCE

All businesses in Alberta require a business licence before they start operating. Start your application process earlier rather than later to ensure you don’t get held up by lengthy approval processes, and submit your application and all supporting documents at the same time.

Supporting documentation may include:

  • planning permission
  • lease agreement
  • proof of trade name registration
  • proof of fire inspection
  • proof of health inspection

In some cases, it can seem impossible to submit all of your documentation at the same time, especially when the business application requires documentation that you can’t get until the final stages of opening (e.g. fire inspection, health inspection). 

In these instances, it may be possible to submit your business licence application to your local municipal office before obtaining all the required supporting documentation; keep in mind that this is entirely at the discretion of your local municipal office so you will want to contact them to find out how to move forward. 

In some municipalities, your application may be accepted but marked as “pending” until all of your documentation has been received; in others, you may be able to use an online portal to upload your application and documentation and submit it when final; in still others, you may not be required to submit certain types of supporting documentation in order to get your licence. 

BUILDING PERMITS

If you’re planning to do any construction or renovations, you will likely require one or more building permits. 

Building permits (e.g. electrical, gas, plumbing, building) are available through municipalities that are accredited to administer the Safety Codes Act. In non-accredited municipalities, you must obtain a permit through an agency that is authorized to issue permits and provide inspection services on behalf of the province.

To find out where you can obtain one or more building permits, or to arrange for a fire inspection, visit: http://www.municipalaffairs.alberta.ca/permits.

In order to obtain a building permit, and before you start any construction or renovations, you must submit detailed plans and specifications — what you’re going to do and the materials you’re going to use — to your municipality or accredited agency and your local Environmental Public Health office for approval.  

Plans should be drawn to scale and comply with the Alberta Building Code. They can be hand-drawn or professionally developed, but they must show accurate metric measurements.

Check with your local municipal office / authorized agency and your local Environmental Public Health office about what needs to be included in your plans and the format in which they must be submitted to be considered for approval. 

If your application and plans are approved by all the relevant departments, you will be issued one or more building permits, at which point you can proceed with construction. 

Note: Making unapproved changes can be a costly mistake, so if you want to change your plan, submit a new application and restart the process.

After construction is complete, contact your local municipal office and your local Environmental Public Health Department to let them know that you’re ready for an inspection. Inspections are required to ensure the work complies with your permit and local bylaws. 

HEALTH INSPECTION

Once construction or renovations are 100% complete, call your local Environmental Public Health office to arrange for an inspection of the facility. Your inspection will be carried out by an Environmental Health Officer (EHO). 

Note: Even if you have not done any construction or renovations, you must still arrange for an inspection before opening — Food Handling Permits are conditional on a successful onsite inspection by a local EHO. 

Call at least one week prior to your expected date of opening. All construction must be complete and the facility must be in ready-to-operate condition for the approval inspection. Failure to ensure your business is “inspection-ready” could result in delays or even a failed inspection.

To ensure that your facility is ready for its approval inspection, make sure you’ve met all of the requirements set out in Alberta Health Services’ Food Establishment Health Approval Checklist

If you pass your inspection, your food establishment will be granted approval from Environmental Public Health to open, and your EHO will help guide you through the process of obtaining your Food Handling Permit. If you don’t pass, you’ll need to correct any deficiencies that were identified during the inspection before you can arrange for a re-inspection. 

Do not start any food handling activities until you have passed your approval inspection.

FOOD HANDLING PERMIT

Every food establishment is required to have a Food Handling Permit issued by Alberta Health Services, Environmental Public Health Department. 

Food Handling Permits and municipal permits and licences are not transferable. For change of ownership, the new operator must apply for a new food handling permit at least two weeks prior to taking over the operation. 

Approval of a Food Handling Permit is conditional on: 

  • compliance with zoning, building and fire codes
  • a successful onsite inspection by an EHO
  • food safety training for food handlers and management (as described in Section 31 of the Food Regulation Code)
  • payment of food permit fee

Download a Food Handling Permit application.

OTHER PERMITS AND LICENCES

Depending on your region and the type of business you wish to operate, you may be required to obtain other licences and permits, such as:

  • liquor licence
  • music licence
  • sidewalk patio permit
  • sign permit
  • waste disposal permit

For more information about obtaining permits and licences, contact your local municipal office or do a search in BizPaL.

FOOD SAFETY TRAINING

Alberta’s Food Regulation (section 31) requires food businesses to employ at least one employee who has completed a food safety training course that is recognized by Alberta’s Minister of Health and Wellness. 

Employees who have completed a food safety training course are called Certified Food Handlers. Certified Food Handlers in Alberta must have authority to control how food is prepared and served. 

In order to be compliant with food safety laws and regulations, food businesses in Alberta must do the following:

  • Ensure that one Certified Food Handler is on staff. They can be absent if there are five or fewer employees (including wait staff) working on the premises.
  • Ensure that at least one Certified Food Handler is present whenever there are six or more employees working on the premises (including wait staff).

CIFS’s Food Handler Certification Course is government-approved in Alberta (and all other provinces and territories across Canada). 


Employees

In Alberta, the Employment Standards Code Act sets out the minimum standards that apply in most workplaces. 

The Act provides guidelines for:

  • minimum wage
  • paydays and payroll records
  • overtime
  • vacation time
  • leave entitlement
  • notice or payment for termination

If you have (or will have) employees, you are required by law to set up an account with the Workers’ Compensation Board – Alberta (WCB-Alberta) within 15 days of hiring your first worker. 

Visit the WCB website to learn more about the benefits of coverage and your obligations as an employer.

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