Initiatives to promote healthy eating in child care settings can be affected by state and local food safety laws. For example, a child care provider who serves a head of broccoli, whole carrots, or a whole tomato, may not need a food license. Under some state and local laws, a food license would be required if a provider were to cut up those vegetables and prepare a salad. Child care centers must have a food service license if they prepare food on site. However, licensed family child care providers1 are not required to have a food service license even if they prepare meals on site.

Food safety regulations also require a child care provider to have commercial-grade kitchen equipment if the provider prepares and serves food. Having a commercial kitchen can be cost prohibitive, and may result in a provider opting to serve only catered-in or pre-packaged food that does not require special kitchen equipment. Sometimes child care programming is specifically excluded from “food establishment” standards, depending on the type of program or the number of children served. However, the differences in terminology and in determining the number of children served can create confusion. It can get even more complicated if providers have to look to both state and local laws to figure out if they can serve children food without a permit. Situations like these demonstrate the importance of understanding the interaction between child care and food safety laws. In situations where a child care program is excluded from “food establishment” standards, the regulations may include other food safety requirements.

Figure 1: Minnesota County Delegation Map2

Minnesota County Licensing Delegation Map

What general food practices apply?

Child care providers that store, prepare, produce or serve food must ensure that food is not in a filthy, unclean, or unsanitary condition.3 The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has the authority to investigate and require corrective action.4

What is the Minnesota Food Code? 

The Minnesota Food Code is a set of standards that food establishments must comply with in the handling, storage, preparation, and service of food.5 The standards cover topics like personal cleanliness,6 hygienic practices,7 food quality,8 protecting against contamination,9 proper cooking, cooling, and storage practices,10 equipment requirements,11 and inspection policies.12

What is a food establishment?

A food establishment is defined as any operation that stores, prepares, packages, serves, vends, or otherwise provides food for human consumption.13 The regulations provide examples such as a restaurant, market, grocery store, convenience store, special event food stand, school, boarding establishment, vending machine, deli, or bakery.14 The list does not include all operations that are considered food establishments. This is because a list of all food establishments would be too cumbersome and could accidentally omit an operation. To determine if an operation is a food establishment, review the definition and then compare the operation to the examples given in the regulation, being careful to note all exclusions.15

Who is in charge of licensing food establishments?

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is in charge of licensing most food establishments.16 However, MDH has given authority to some local health agencies to provide licenses for food, beverage, and lodging establishments in Minnesota (See Figure 1).17 Where the food establishment is located determines who will provide the license.18 For example, food establishments in Dakota County are licensed by MDH because no authority has been delegated to a local agency.19 However, food establishments in Saint Paul are licensed by the Saint Paul-Ramsey County Department of Public Health because MDH has delegated full authority to the local jurisdiction.20 In five counties21 MDH has given partial authority to local health agencies. These counties present special situations for licensing. For example, in Hennepin County MDH maintains some authority. Hennepin County Environmental Health is responsible for part of the area, and seven22 of the cities that make up the county have enacted their own licensing program.23

Can local governments require higher standards for establishments serving food?

Theoretically, local governments could set higher standards than those required by the Minnesota Food Code, but typically they do not.24 Delegation agreements between the state and local agencies require that local ordinances not be in conflict with the standards set in the Minnesota Food Code. With certain types of food establishments (grocery and convenience stores), the Minnesota Food Code must be adopted as the minimum/maximum standards.25 The uncertainty in the law as to when local governments can require higher standards and when they cannot typically leads to local agencies simply adopting the Minnesota Food Code.

Are licensed family child care providers required to comply with the food code regulations? 

Licensed family child care providers are not considered a food establishment, and therefore do not need to follow the Minnesota Food Code standards.26 Due to the difference in licensing requirements, licensed family child care providers are not required to have commercial kitchens.

So licensed family child care providers do not have to comply with the food code. Are they required to comply with any food safety requirements? 

Yes. State child care licensing regulations for licensed family child care providers outline food safety requirements.27 Licensed family child care providers have special requirements for hand washing, food and utensil storage, proper heating and refrigeration of foods, and safe and clean appliances. Also, the regulations do not allow serving certain home-canned food products to children in child care.28

Are child care centers required to comply with the food code regulations?

Yes. Unlike licensed family child care providers, the food code does not specifically exempt child care centers from food establishment status. In addition, the state licensing requirements specifically require that child care centers follow the rules for food and beverage establishments found in the Minnesota Food Code.29

Do child care centers need to comply with all parts of the Minnesota Food Code?

No, child care centers can be exempt from two regulations depending on the size of the operation. The food code requires that an owner or operator of a food establishment employ a full-time certified food manager.30 Food managers31 are in charge of: day-to-day operations, developing and implementing policies, training employees, and self-inspections.32 However, a certified food manager is not required in centers that prepare food for 18 or fewer people per mealtime.33 The Minnesota Food Code also requires food establishments to have commercial-grade equipment, like commercial-type spray dishwashing machines and food service refrigerators.34 Domestic equipment may be substituted for commercial equipment in centers that serve ten or fewer individuals.35



The interaction between child care and food safety laws is important because child care healthy eating efforts can be affected by state and local food codes. When determining what parts of the Minnesota Food Code (if any) apply to child care settings:

  • Know who is in charge of licensing
  • Pay close attention to the definitions within the regulations
  • Know which establishments are specifically excluded from compliance
  • Be aware of any special exemptions within the code



1 Minnesota law refers to day care homes in statute and regulation, but this fact sheets utilizes the industry used term “licensed family child care providers.”
2 Minnesota Department of Health, Licensing Jurisdiction Map (Jan. 29, 2016, 04:00 PM),
3 Minn. Stat. § 31.161 (2017).
4 Minn. Stat. § 31.165 (2017).
5See Minn. R. 4626 (2012).
6See Minn. R. 4626.0065– 4626.0100 (2012).
7See Minn. R. 4626.0105– 4626.0120 (2012).
8See Minn. R. 4626.0125– 4626.0220 (2012).
9See Minn. R. 4626.0225– 4626.0335 (2012).
10See Minn. R. 4626.0340– 4626.0420 (2012).
11See Minn. R. 4626.0450– 4626.0905 (2012).
12See Minn. R. 4626.1785– 4626.1815 (2012).
13See Minn. R. 4626.0020(35)(A)(1) (2012).
14See Minn. R. 4626.0020(35)(A)(1) (2012).
15See Minn. R. 4626.0020(35)(C) (2012).
16See Minn. R. 4626.0017 (2012).
17 Minnesota Department of Health, Who will license the establishment? (Oct. 29, 2015, 03:15 PM),
18 Minnesota Department of Health, State and Local Environmental Health Delegated Agencies (Jan. 29, 2016, 03:05 PM),
19 Minnesota Department of Health, State and Local Environmental Health Delegated Agencies (Jan. 29, 2016, 03:05 PM),
20 Ramsey County Public Health Department, Food Protection Ordinance for Ramsey County 2002-398 (Nov. 5, 2002)
21 Minnesota Department of Health, State and Local Environmental Health Delegated Agencies (Jan. 29, 2016, 03:05 PM),
22 Hennepin County, Food, Beverage, & Lodging Jurisdiction (Aug. 10, 2012),
23 Hennepin County, Food, Beverage, & Lodging (Aug. 10, 2012),  
24 Email from Mark Clary, Saint Paul-Ramsey County Department of Public Health, Environmental Health Section (Nov. 19, 2012, 13:28 CST) (on file with author).
25See Minn. R. 4626 (2012).
26 Minn. R. 4626.0020(35)(C)(2) (2012); See also Minn. Stat. § 157.22(5) (2012).
27 Minn. R. 9502.0445(4) (2017).
28 Minn. R. 9502.0445(4)(D) (2017).
29 Minn. R. 9503.0145(3) (2017).
30 Minn. R. 4626.2010(1) (2017).
31See Minn. R. 4626.2015 (2017).
32 Minn. R. 4626.2010(5) (2017).
33 Minn. R. 4626.2010(4)(B) (2017).
34 Minn. R. 4626.0505 (2017).
35 Minn. R. 4626.0505 (J) (2017).