Food Safety for Businesses

Our Health Unit works to promote, protect, and improve the health and well-being of all in our community, including all businesses who prepare and serve food.

Chef's cooking in a kitchen

Please visit our Guidelines for Opening and Renovating a Food Premises webpage that provides details about building requirements, lighting, washrooms, ventilation, equipment, and other requirements and procedures you need to know before opening and operating a food premises.

According to O.Reg 493/17 Food Premises, anyone who plans to open a new food premises or re-open after renovating a food premises in Windsor-Essex County MUST notify the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit. Call the Environmental Health Department at 519-258-2146 ext. 4475 to provide information about the premises DURING construction and BEFORE opening, or complete the Food Premises Inspection Request Form.

For home-based businesses: information on opening and operating a home-based food business, please review the Ministry of Health’s Health’s A Guide to Starting a Home-based Food Business document and review the “Operating a home-based food business” section on this page.

Home-based food businesses are allowed to prepare and sell food from their home-based kitchen ONLY if they operate in accordance with the Health Protection and Promotion Act and the Food Premises Regulation. All home-based food premises and are required to have an inspection of their facility BEFORE operating.

Important: Home-based food premises cannot operate in a room or part of a room that is used as a personal dwelling. For clarity: kitchens used for personal use may NOT be used for the food premises business. Note that it is not permitted to use screens, curtains, etc. to partition off part of a room that is used as a dwelling.

In home-based food premises, animals are not permitted in the room(s) that is being used for the food premises, unless an applicable exemption applies (e.g., a service animal). Note that pets are permitted in the parts of the home that are not considered a part of the food premises.  

Home-based food premises must contact their local municipality and inform the municipality of their intention to operate. Some municipalities require business licenses in order to operate and others may not permit home-based operation. Your area PHI will ensure that you have completed this step prior to the pre-opening inspection.

Contact the Environmental Health Department at 519-258-2146 ext. 4475 to schedule your inspection.

Please read Ontario’s step-by-step Guide to Starting a Home-based Food Business.

Please note that home-based businesses that prepare only low-risk foods are still required to have an inspection, but are exempt from certain sections of the Food Premises Regulation.  This includes exemptions related to:

  • Dedicated hand washing stations
  • Commercial dishwashing facilities
  • Food handler certification (although this is recommended and the course can be taken for free on our elearning webpage.)

To determine if your home-based food premises qualifies for these exemptions, please call the Health Unit to speak with a Public Health Inspector, 519-258-2146 ext. 4475.

Please visit our Special Event and Food Vendor Requirements page for detailed instructions on organizer and vendor responsibilities when food is being offered at a public event.

Please note that in addition to meeting event and food vendor requirements, according to the Health Protection and Promotion Act, 1990, you must notify the health unit when food will be offered to the public at an event.

All organizers must complete a Special Event/Market Application form and submit to the Health Unit at least 30 days before the event.

All food vendors must complete a Food Vendor Application form and submit to the Health Unit at least 30 days before the event.

The Ontario Public Health Standards (OPHS) under the authority of the Health Protection and Promotion Act 1990 (HPPA) (R.S.O. 1990. c. h.7) gives Public Health Inspectors (PHI) at the Health Unit the responsibility and power to inspect anywhere food is prepared, stored, or served to the public.

Public Health Inspectors conduct inspections to make sure food premises owners and food handlers are meeting the minimum standards of the Ontario Food Premises Regulation. Regular inspections prevent and reduce foodborne illness in our community.

A food premises is a facility where food or milk is manufactured, processed, prepared, stored, handled, displayed, distributed, transported, sold or offered for sale (does not include a private residence) (HPPA, 1990).

For more information on compliance with the Food Premises Regulation, please review the Ministry of Health resource for the full list of public health requirements and best practices to help guide you: Food Premises Reference Document.

PHIs conduct routine inspections of all food premises to ensure that owners and food handlers are meeting the minimum standards set out in the Ontario Regulation 493/17 Food Premises.

PHIs make sure owners and food handlers are:

  • Handling food in a safe and sanitary manner.
  • Maintaining the food premises in a clean and sanitary condition.

PHI’s also educate food handlers in safe food handling practices onsite and provide food safety resources, including offering the Food Handlers Course.

Routine inspections are required to make sure the food you’re eating is safe. There are about 2,600 food premises inspected in Windsor-Essex County. These food premises range from full service restaurants, churches and catering vehicles.

In 2015, ‘Ontario’s Guidance Document for the Risk Categorization of Food Premises’ was released by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. The guidance document outlines risk factors and associated weights for each factor resulting in an overall score for each food premise. Based on this score, every food premises is assigned a risk level of high, moderate or low. This risk level then deems how many times per year the premise requires inspections as set out in the Ontario Food Safety Protocol.

A Public Health Inspector assesses the risk level of a food premises every year during an inspection. The risk level is given based on the likelihood that a food-borne illness outbreak could occur from the food served at that premises. For food premises which provide foods to vulnerable or at-risk people, have previous infractions, have extensive food handling, etc., it is more likely that harm could be caused to the public. In these cases, these food premises require more frequent inspections to ensure the public is safe.

Risk levels (High, Moderate, or Low) are assigned based on a variety of factors, each weighted differently:

Population Served

Vulnerable and at-risk populations (elderly, immunocompromised, children) are more likely to experience serious complications from eating contaminated food. Those food premises serving these clients (e.g., Hospital, long- term care home, retirement home, daycare, etc.) will require more frequent inspections.

Preparation and Serving

The likelihood of contamination increases with the amount of food handling and steps involved in the preparation of food (assembling, cooking, cooling, reheating, etc.). Those premises which have many steps in food preparation are higher risk than those serving only prepackaged foods. Full-service banquet halls and premises where food is primarily catered off site also have an increased risk for food-borne illness.


Compliance with the Ontario Regulation 493/17 Food Premises is also weighted in the overall risk categorization score. Public Health Inspectors review inspection reports for the previous 12 months and determine if infractions were observed. Those with infractions are higher risk for foodborne illness outbreaks than those with no observed infractions.

Food-borne Illness/Outbreaks

If the premises has been confirmed as the source of a foodborne illness or outbreak related to improper food handling in the past 12 months, the premises is weighted a higher risk.

Food Safety Management Plan

If a documented food safety management plan is warranted but not in place, the premises is at a higher risk for foodborne illness outbreak. For premises with management plans in place, they are at a lower risk.

Food Safety Knowledge and Training

Premises where food handlers are not demonstrating safe food handling practices are higher risk. For those who have certified food handlers on site, they are at a lower risk.  Learn more about our certified food handler course.

Once the assessment is complete, the PHI will categorize the premises into one of the 3 risk categories and inspect it accordingly:

High risk food premises:

A premises which has a high likelihood of a food-borne illness outbreak occurring and are required to be inspected at least once every 4 months.

Moderate risk food premises:

A premises which has a moderate likelihood of a food-borne illness outbreak occurring and are required to be inspected at least once every 6 months.

Low risk food premises:

A premises which has a low likelihood of a food-borne illness outbreak occurring and are required to be inspected at least once every 12 months.

For more information, please see Ontario's Guidance Document for the Risk Categorization of Food Premises.

There are many different types of inspection that PHI’s conduct.

Type of Inspection Explanation
Compliance inspection Routine inspections conducted to make sure minimum standards set out in the Ontario Regulation 493/17 are met.
Re-inspections Follow up inspections conducted when infractions (issues) are found in the compliance inspection and requires correction.
Pre-opening inspection Conducted before a food premises is open for business. Food premises are required under Health Protection and Promotion Act, (1990) to notify the Health Unit when planning to open.
Complaint-based inspection Conducted to investigate a food safety complaint made by the public or a suspected food-borne illness

Under provincial Food Premises Regulation, churches and other places owned, operated, or leased by religious organizations, service clubs, and fraternal organizations may be exempt. Bed and breakfast places are exempt from the Regulation unless they have ten guests or more.

Find out more on our Food Safety Regulations for Churches and Other Places of Worship page.

Premises that are exempt will not be part of the online disclosure system.

If you have any questions about this, the Environmental Health Department can provide help and education to your facility.

Inspection results are posted on the health unit's online disclosure system or available by calling the Environmental Health Department at 519-258-2146 ext. 4475.

If your inspection sign is destroyed or missing, you must contact the Environmental Health Department at 519-258-2146 ext. 4475.

Yes, you can, but you are not required.

Food safety complaints or suspected foodborne illness can be reported to the Environmental Health Department at 519-258-2146 ext. 4475 or submitted online. Your personal information will be requested, however it remains confidential. A Public Health Inspector will respond to your complaint and conduct an investigation.