Friday, October 19, 2012

Getting a food business permit - visiting the public health center

This week I got around to paying a visit to the Minato-ku public health center / みなと保健所 生活衛生センター / Minato Hokensho seikatsu eisei senta. A short walk from Azabu Juban and sandwiched between large Mita hospitals, the health center is in charge of inspections for food businesses, and deals with various other public health issues for the Minato ward area including disease control, pest control, hygiene, and food regulation.

On the 5th floor there is a long counter with stations for consultations in Japanese regarding food businesses - if your premises is in Minato ku this is where you will need to come to apply for an inspection in order to get your business permit. If you are at that stage already, there's more information on that process in my previous post.

I'm not at the space-hunting stage yet, but wanted to check a couple of things to help with planning my business model as the requirements might impact the kind of space I will need to look for.

I would like to have a multi-purpose space - which could be a cafe while also being a workshop for the bakery and orders, as well as allowing me to hold practical lessons - but I learned that a local bread school were not allowed to use their teaching kitchen as a commercial space, and so I wanted to know exactly why. It turns out that the problem is with who can enter the kitchen / 厨房 / chuubou - if I keep my kitchen quite separate from the café area through the use of a counter and a swing door for example, and do not allow customers or students into the kitchen, then I can use the café area outside business hours to teach. Of course this will mean I'll have to get creative with using tables as workstations and make sure only me and my staff ferry trays and things to the kitchen, but it looks like there may be a way to make this work, legally, in a small space.

This also means that if you are running a bakery from home in Japan, apart from your facilities meeting the confectionery business permit requirements, they will also have to be in what amounts to a second kitchen to be used solely for your business activities. The health center staff confirmed that a business permit will not be granted to a food business using their regular domestic kitchen because family members using the space and your own domestic food preparation presents a health hazard for a commercial food business.

Basic requirements for a food business permit

On the back of the application is a list of the basic requirements you'll need to meet, along with diagrams. I've done a rough translation here, but do check with your ward office as requirements are different for each area (these from Hiroshima are very nicely illustrated) and may change.
  1. Building – made out of suitably durable material
  2. Plan – walls and boards etc. made of suitable material and arranged appropriately for intended purpose
  3. Floor – comprised of easy to clean and water resistant material
  4. Interior walls – at least the bottom meter should be water resistant and washable
  5. Ceiling and walls – made of easy to clean material
  6. Ventilation – there should be separate ventilation for customer area and kitchen
  7. Kitchen sinks – need to have at least 2 (of at least the dimensions in the 1st image below)
  8. Hot water – to aid hygiene there needs to be hot running water
  9. Staff hand-washing sink – need to be in the kitchen and in the visitor area (of at least the dimensions in the 2nd image below)
  10. Hand sanitation – should be provided at the staff hand-washing sink (9)
  11. Refrigeration – units need to be big enough to hold the required amount of chilled food appropriately
  12. Temperature regulation – thermometers should be placed in the refrigeration/freezing units and in the kitchen area
  13. Storage – there is shelving of adequate size to store the number and sizes of vessels required for the business 
  14. Waste disposal – bins are of sufficient size and have lids
  15. Cleaning equipment – have their own storage area
  16. Changing room or locker – is outside the kitchen area
  17. Customer area – should be positioned so as not to interfere with food preparation areas, and a toilet should be provided

Much of what they wanted to emphasise to me when I visited was about the sinks - that in addition to a staff hand-washing sink, there should be two kitchen sinks for a restaurant/cafe type permit, or one kitchen sink if it was only a confectionery business without eat-in areas, and that these all had to meet the specified sizes.

Since I was there, I took the opportunity to ask a few additional things. The staff who helped me were amused at how strict the international examples I came up with seemed to be - apparently there is no legal requirement in Japan for egg products to be brought above 71 °C, and there are no regulations about the weight of bread. Grease traps, which are a legal requirement for commercial kitchens in many countries are not legally required in Japan (at least, according to the staff I spoke to), but your building owner may want you to have one fitted, and it makes sense to adhere to best practice regarding waste fats, oil and grease disposal even if it isn't a legal requirement.

Finally, I checked but there are currently no resources available in English to help with the process, and all consultation is in Japanese. The staff at the Minato public health center said that other ward areas may provide this information, so if you are in another area it's worth asking!


  1. Just came across this blog, and this is great info. Thank you! <3

  2. can you help me !! i want to have a rolling store. i will sell all kinds of snacks and canned goods from my home country ( philippines). what permit i will need to operate this kind of bvusiness?

    1. I really have no experience of this I'm afraid. I think the best thing to do is to visit a Health Department and get the information directly from the source - there may be a special "yatai" type license that has its own requirements. Good luck!