New Law Requires Inspection at More Bars Serving Food  

A chef wearing gloves as he prepares food in a restaurant.

Mecklenburg County Public Health will now permit more bars that serve food in Mecklenburg County as Session Law 2023-129, sec 16 (HB 125) goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2024. North Carolina will require that any bar that prepares or serves food requiring temperature and time control obtain a Health Department Permit for food service. 

“Public Health’s leading role is to keep our community safe, and this change in law will help us to do that. I applaud state leaders for their collaboration and partnership,” said Dr. Raynard Washington, Mecklenburg County Public Health director. “There are still exceptions to the new law, so my advice for the public is if they are eating food at a bar and have concerns, look for the Public Health Inspection Certificate as it must be prominently displayed.”

Mecklenburg County Public Health’s Environmental Health Division has been working since Oct. 1, when the law was passed to execute the new mandate. Public Health sent notification letters with instructions to the 268 potentially affected facilities using Alcohol Beverage Control board and department records. Further research and attempts to contact all bar facilities to assess whether they will need a food service permit are ongoing. Any facility that has a question regarding their status, or food options that will not require a permit is encouraged to call Mecklenburg County Environmental Health at 980-314-1620 to speak with a plans examiner.  

For bars receiving a permit, Environmental Health staff will provide training or guidance needed to ensure a smooth transition as inspections occur and permits are issued.  

Operators may use one of Mecklenburg County Public Health's many access points for the public to view information about food service establishments, including Public Health's Environmental Health webpage. Inspection reports for food service establishments that fall under public health inspection can also be viewed on the site, or by using the Yelp app. On the app, view the last inspection at an establishment in the Info section, under  Health score. 

Frequently Asked Questions

I am a bar that doesn’t sell food. Why am I receiving this information?

With the number of private clubs and bars in Mecklenburg County, the NC Dept. of Health and Human Services memo and Mecklenburg County letter was sent to all bars that do not currently hold a Food Service Establishment permit. Please contact 980-314-1620 and advise the administrative assistant that you do not sell food or have a kitchen on site.

I am a private club/bar. Why do I need a permit now?

On Oct 2, 2023, Session Law 2023-129, Sec. 16 (HB 125) became law. This changed the NC General Statute to specify when a bar is exempt from regulation and permitting as a Food Service Establishment (FSE).

If you prepare and serve time or temperature control for safety (TCS) foods, you will need to obtain a Health Department Food Service Establishment (FSE) operating permit. If the bar only handles garnishes and unopened, packaged food, a FSE permit will not be required. The Health Department no longer looks at the ABC status. If you are a facility that handles TCS foods, you are required to obtain a FSE permit.

Are there any exemptions from this law?

Yes. Country clubs that hold non-profit status will not need to obtain a FSE permit. The club must provide their 501c3 paperwork or provide their filing status by the NC Secretary of State. If the LLC/Inc is provided, the Health Department can look this information up on the NCSOS website.

I have never held a Health Department permit in the past. How do I obtain one?

If the facility has never held a Health Dept FSE permit under any name, the facility will need to start the plan review process. This includes hiring an architect or certified engineer to draw up plans to submit to Mecklenburg County Code Enforcement.

How to submit a complete plan set and the requirements can be answered by the Code Enforcement Information & Resource Center

Specific Health Department related questions can be answered by an Environmental Health Plans Examiner. Contact 980-314-1620 and ask to be routed to a Plans Examiner. Mecklenburg County Environmental Health plan review information and application.

There used to be a Health Department permit at this address in the past, do I have to go through full plan review?

Maybe not. The Health Department will assign an inspector to contact you to ask additional questions. The inspector may be able to conduct an in-field plan review. If this is the case, they will schedule an appointment to meet you at the facility. The inspector will check the facility’s equipment that was originally installed. They will look at finishes and condition of floors, walls, and ceilings. They will assess refrigeration, menu, dry storage, dish machines, etc. Ifthere are no corrections or minimal floor/wall ceiling damage corrections, they may issue a permit and no fee will be assessed.

If the observations reveal kitchen has been altered or needs further alterations or equipment additions, then a list of items to correct will be shared to complete before a permit is issued. There will be $250 fee collected for establishments that once held a permit and have altered their kitchen or need alterations to receive a new food service permit. The fee will need to be paid before the permit will be issued.

I don’t want to go through plan review. What can I do without a permit?

A facility can’t open, prepare, or handle any food items for service to customers. You may sell packaged chips or crackers as a snack. Individually portioned frozen meals may be sold if the customer purchases, opens the package and heats in a microwave available for use outside of the bar area. You may provide menus from surrounding permitted establishments where patrons can order food. Permitted mobile food units may also be used.

When do I need to obtain a FSE permit?

Jan. 1, 2024. You should discontinue operating with food service until a permit has been issued.

Are there resources for me to reference?

For bars receiving a permit, Environmental Health staff will work with you and your staff to provide any training or guidance needed to ensure a smooth transition as permits are issued and inspections begin at your establishment