Food Service Establishments

Restaurant Sanitation Ratings

Ensuring proper sanitation in food service establishments is important to public health and the prevention of food-borne illness. The Food and Lodging section enforces the state rules in the permitting and inspections of food handling establishments. The frequency of inspections varies for each establishment depending on the risk factors and how food is processed in the facility.

Establishments can be inspected one to four times a year depending on this risk-based inspection category. Please visit this web page for the most recent updates to Restaurant Sanitation Ratings.


There are five major risk factors in prevention of a food-borne illness:

  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Inadequate cooking
  • Improper food temperatures
  • Cross contamination
  • Food from unapproved sources

Food Service Facilities Inspection

The types of food service facilities inspected by this department include:

  • Restaurants
  • Food stands
  • Delis and meat markets
  • Public and private school cafeterias
  • Mobile food units and push carts
  • Elderly nutrition sites and institutional kitchens
  • Limited food service establishments
  • Temporary food service establishments

Application and Checklist

All food vendors wishing to sell potentially hazardous foods at an event in Sampson County must complete an application and return it to our office with the required fee prior to the date of operation. The event sponsor must also notify the department prior to the event and complete all necessary forms from this office. Forms should be submitted to this office at least 15 days before the event date. To complete a form, please click on the icon of the desired form below:

Not all food vendors need a permit. Vendors who sell foods that are not considered potentially hazardous may not require a permit from this office in order to operate.

Foods that do not require a permit include:

  • Popcorn or kettle corn
  • Candy
  • Pies, cakes, and cookies
  • Desserts or fried desserts
  • Ice cream
  • Snowballs
  • Funnel cakes or elephant ears
  • Candy apples
  • Ice and beverages such as coffee, teas, and lemonade
  • Whole raw fruits and vegetables
The above-listed foods may be regulated by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. The NC Department of Agriculture can be contacted directly at (919) 733-7366.

Concession Stands

Limited Food Service Establishments are those that prepare or serve food in conjunction with amateur athletic events. These include concession stands. 

Concession Stand


Smoke-free North Carolina
Since January 2, 2010, nearly all restaurants and bars in North Carolina, and many lodging establishments, have been smoke-free, thanks to N.C. General Statute 130A-497, otherwise known as North Carolina’s Smoke-Free Restaurants and Bars Law. Click here to find more information on this law.

Constructing or Buying a Restaurant
All food service establishments must have a valid permit from this office in order to operate. Prior to the construction of a new establishment, plans must be submitted and approved by the Environmental Health Office and other regulatory agencies, such as Building Inspections. An existing permit is not transferable from one owner to another. When an establishment changes ownership, our office must be contacted to conduct an evaluation of the establishment prior to opening in order for a transitional permit to be issued to the new owner. The transitional permit allows the new operator 180 days to repair all non-compliant items found during the initial evaluation.

Non-Profit Organizations
Organizations that are "bona-fide" not-for-profit can claim a two-day exemption from having to receive a permit. The two-day exemption can only be used once per month for two consecutive days. Non-profit vendors must submit documentation to this office showing their non-profit status.

General Guidelines for Mobile Food Units
A mobile food unit is a fully enclosed food service establishment that is vehicle-mounted and readily moved, simply stated is a restaurant on wheels. A pushcart is a small, unenclosed mobile piece of equipment that is designed to serve hot dogs only. Both types of units are required to be permitted through this office and shall operate in conjunction with a permitted restaurant or commissary. The owner or operator of the restaurant or commissary must complete the required Agreement form from this office. All requirements for push carts and mobile food units are found in the Rules Governing the Sanitation of Food Service Establishments, sections .2670 to .2672.

All units are required to have a potable water system with hot and cold running water under pressure. Units must have a sewage storage tank that is 15 percent larger than the water supply tank. At least a single compartment sink with integral drain boards on each side of the sink shall be provided for utensil washing, a separate lavatory is also required for hand washing. Depending on the type or volume of foods prepared on the unit, a sink for vegetable or meat preparation may also be required. Units must have mechanical refrigeration capable of keeping all potentially hazardous foods at 41 degrees F or below. All equipment such as sinks, refrigeration, cooking, and hot-holding equipment shall meet the NSF/ANSI sanitation standard.

General Guidelines for Push Carts
A pushcart must be constructed to meet the provisions of 15A NCAC 18A .2600 and NSF/ANSI standard 59. If the pushcart is not NSF, the manufacturer or owner must submit documentation that demonstrates it is constructed to meet the equivalency of the NSF/ANSI standard. Only hot dogs and similar types of products can be prepared, handled, or served from a pushcart. All foods and utensils on the cart must be protected by an enclosure at all times to protect them from contamination.