Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection
City Services

Mobile Food Vendor Licenses

Mayor Emanuel introduced an ordinance passed by the City Council to expand mobile food vehicle operations in neighborhoods across Chicago. The ordinance legalizes expanded food vehicle operations while maintaining public health standards. The following charts illustrate the provisions of the upgraded Mobile Food Dispenser (MFD) license and the new Mobile Food Preparer (MFP) license, and the procedural steps required to obtain them:

Definitions and Fees

  Mobile Food Dispenser Mobile Food Preparer
Definition
  • A Mobile Food Dispenser (MFD) is any person who, by traveling from place to place upon the public ways from a mobile food vehicle, serves individual portions of food that are totally enclosed in a wrapper or container and which have been manufactured, prepared or wrapped in a licensed food establishment.
  • Such food may undergo a final preparation step immediately prior to service to a consumer in conformity with the rules and regulations of the board of health.
A Mobile Food Preparer (MFP) is any person who, by traveling from place to place upon the public ways, prepares and serves food from a mobile food vehicle.
Mobile Food Vehicle (MFV)
A motorized vehicle registered as a commercial vehicle and shall not be used for any purposes other than a mobile food dispenser or mobile food preparer business.
Application and License Fees $700 application fee, 2-year term. $1,000 application fee, 2-year term.

Free Vehicle Assessment

To help mobile food vehicle license applicants prepare for the Department of Public Health (CDPH) and, if applicable*, Chicago Fire Department (CFD) inspections, we are providing a FREE Mobile Food Vehicle (MFV) Assessment prior to submitting an application.

The MFV Assessment consists of a mobile food vehicle review by CDPH and CFD inspectors, who will provide applicants with an inspection report explaining the results of their compliance assessment.  A Business Consultant from our department will be onsite to assist with the process, and coordinate any additional services.

MFV Assessments are conducted by appointment only.  To make an appointment, please contact us by phone at 312.74.GOBIZ / 744.6249, or by submitting an online request at this link.

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* Mobile food vehicles equipped with propane or natural gas system, fire suppression hood and/or a generator, are required to be inspected by the Chicago Fire Department.

Step 1: Submit License Application at Business Affairs & Consumer Protection (BACP)

  Mobile Food Dispenser Mobile Food Preparer
License Application Requirements       Meet with BACP Business Consultant and discuss overall food operations, ordinance and operational requirements.  Appointments can be made by calling 312.74.GOBIZ / 744.6249.
Complete Business Information Sheet to include applicants’ full name, residence address, business address, e-mail, telephone number(s), date of birth and Social Security Number.
Provide government-issued photo ID from ALL applicants, owners, and business entity controlling persons and registered agents.
Provide Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) and State of Illinois File Number (if a business entity); and Illinois Department of Revenue Account ID.
Supply the name and address of the commissary where the vehicle will be cleaned and serviced; and if the vehicle is not stored at the commissary, the name and address of the place where such vehicle will be stored when not in use.
A valid retail food establishment or shared kitchen user license is required if the mobile food dispenser is producing food for sale. City of Chicago Food Sanitation Manager Certificate issued to the applicant or the applicant's employee who will operate the mobile food vehicle.
A certificate of commercial general liability insurance with limits of not less than $350,000.00 per occurrence, required for applicants that will use a propane tank or natural gas in the mobile food vehicle.

Step 2: Health Consultation and Fire Safety Permit

  Mobile Food Dispenser Mobile Food Preparer
Health Consultation Requirements At time of application at the BACP, the applicant must complete a consultation with a Sanitarian from the Department of Health to review the following:
  • Proposed menu including a list of all food items the applicant intends to serve.
  • Blueprints (plans) of the vehicle.
  • Specification sheets on equipment installed and used within the vehicle.
  • Inspection report from within the last 90 days from the state or local health authority where the food source or commissary is located, if the applicant is  from outside of Chicago.
  • Blueprints (plans) of the commissary, if the applicant is from outside of Chicago. [MFPs only]
  • If the mobile food vehicle has a propane or natural gas system, fire suppression hood, and/or generator, then applicants must also submit an MFV Fire Safety Permit application to the Chicago Fire Department (CFD) for approval.
Fire Safety Permit All MFVs with a gasoline or electric generator, propane, compressed natural gas or a fire suppression hood will need a Fire Safety Permit.
 
Fire Safety Permit Application
Applicants must submit a completed “MFV Fire Safety Permit Application” along with:
  • A $100.00 check or money order made payable to the “City of Chicago” for the MFV Fire Safety Permit Application Fee, and
  • Any required documents.  The MFV Fire Safety Permit Consultation Packet may be found under "Resources" below.
 
Application with Propane/Natural Gas Systems

Applicants with a propane or natural gas system installed on their MFV, must register the MFV operator(s) for the required Fire Safety Class (FSC).

Applications with Fire Suppression System
Applicants with a Fire Suppression System (FSS) installed on their MFV must:
  • Have the COMPANY that designed/installed their vehicle’s fire suppression system submit vehicle plans, on company letterhead, to the CFD at the Bureau of Fire Prevention Headquarters, 444 N. Dearborn, 2nd Floor.
  • Forward a $150.00 check, or money order, made payable to the “City of Chicago” for the FSS Plan Review.
 
On-site Inspection
  • An onsite inspection of the applicant’s mobile food vehicle will be conducted with CDPH at 2133 W. Lexington, Chicago, Illinois.
  • Onsite inspections will be scheduled by BACP.
 
Permit Issuance

A Fire Safety Permit will be issued once the following has been verified:
  • The vehicle has passed the onsite inspection.
  • The owner and employees (MFV operators) have attended the Fire Safety Class (FSC).
  • All fees have been paid.

Mobile Food Vehicle (MFV) Requirements

  Mobile Food Dispenser Mobile Food Preparer
MFV Requirements
   
The vehicle shall be enclosed with top and sides, hand wash sink, hot and cold water, equipment to maintain temperatures, waste water retention tank and the business name and license number legibly painted in letters and figures at least two inches in height in a conspicuous place on each lateral side of the vehicle. The vehicle shall be enclosed with top and sides, a 3 compartment sink, hand wash sink, hot and cold water, equipment to maintain temperatures, waste water retention tank and the business name and license number legibly painted in letters and figures at least two inches in height in a conspicuous place on each lateral side of the vehicle.
The vehicle shall maintain a suitable, tight, non-absorbent washable receptacle for refuse.  The refuse receptacle shall be adjacent to, but not an integral part of, the mobile food vehicle.
The vehicle shall not be used for any purpose other than a mobile food vehicle.
The vehicle shall be registered as a commercial vehicle and any person who operates such vehicle must have a valid driver's license issued by the state of Illinois or another state, district or territory of the United States.
The vehicle shall be inspected and maintained by a licensed professional, including mechanics and, if applicable, by professionals who install and maintain fire prevention equipment, and propane tanks on mobile food vehicles, as often as necessary but not less than every 90 days, and copies of the last four maintenance reports must be kept in the vehicle at all times while the vehicle is in use.
If propane is to be used in the vehicle, there shall be no more than 40 pounds of propane in the vehicle at any time. The design and maintenance of the vehicle must conform to CFD regulations as outlined in the applicant’s fire safety permit.

Step 3: On-Site Inspection by Health, and Fire if applicable.

  Mobile Food Dispenser Mobile Food Preparer
On-Site Inspection(s) After payment of the application fee, the mobile food vehicle must be made available for inspection by the Department of Health, and if applicable, the Fire Department.

Step 4:  License Issuance

  Mobile Food Dispenser Mobile Food Preparer
License Issuance Requirements
  
The mobile food vehicle must pass required Department of Health, and if applicable, Fire Department inspection(s) in order for the license certificate/decal to be processed.
Mobile food vendors may not operate until the license certificate and decal are issued.
Any City debt must be resolved prior to the issuance or renewal of, or changes to, any business license.

Recurring and License Renewal Inspections

  Mobile Food Dispenser Mobile Food Preparer
Recurring Inspections Like any other restaurant or food establishment, after issuance of the license, mobile food vehicles will be subject to routine sanitation inspections by the Department of Health.  Such inspections will also include a fire safety compliance evaluation if using a propane or natural gas system, fire suppression hood, and/or generator.
License Renewal Inspections At time of license renewal, all mobile food vehicles are required to be inspected.

Operational Requirements

  Mobile Food Dispenser Mobile Food Preparer
Storage and Preparation No food that is sold or served from a mobile food vehicle may be stored or prepared in a residential home.  All operators must work in conjunction with a commissary or shared kitchen to store and prepare food.
Mobility and Duration Mobile food vehicles shall move from place to place upon the public ways and shall not be operated at a fixed location.  Stops shall be made to service customers and shall not exceed a total of two hours or the maximum permitted period for parking, whichever is lesser, in any one block.
Hours Hours of operation are 5AM – 2AM, unless otherwise allowed from a mobile food vehicle stand.
Food Stands Mobile food vehicles may operate from a designated food stand not to exceed a 2-hour service limit.  No other mobile food vehicle may park or operate on such block of the designated stand.  Food Stand address locations may be found at this link.
Private Property Mobile food vehicles may operate on private property, not to exceed service limits of two hours, as long as; the property meets the applicable requirements of the Chicago Zoning Ordinance, and the property owner provides written permission to utilize the property.
Location Restrictions No mobile food vehicle shall park or stand such vehicle within 200 feet of any principal customer entrance to a restaurant which is located on the street level with the exception of 12 AM – 2AM.  Mobile food vehicles are not allowed on privately-owned vacant lots, or a lot of a vacant building.
Fire Safety Mobile food vehicles must be in a continual compliance with CFD regulations governing the use of a propane or natural gas system, fire suppression hood, and/or generator, and uphold the terms of the vehicle’s fire safety permit.
GPS Each mobile food vehicle must have a permanently installed Global Positioning System (GPS) device which sends real-time data to any service that has a publicly-accessible application programming interface (API).  Device must be fully functioning and activated while the vehicle is operational.

GPS Tracking Device Guidelines
  • An "active", NOT “passive”, device that sends real-time data to a GPS tracking service provider;
  • Permanently installed in, or on, the vehicle;
  • Broadcasting GPS coordinates no less frequent than once every five (5) minutes;
  • Functioning at all times when the MFV is in operation, regardless if the engine is on or off;
  • Accurate no less than 95% of the time.

GPS Tracking Device Service Provider Guidelines
Must be able to provide, upon request of the city of Chicago:
  • Reports of each transmitted position including arrival dates, times and addresses, and duration of each stop;
  • At least six (6) months of historical information/reports, in a downloadable format (i.e. PDF, CSV or Excel);
  • An application programming interface (API) that is available to the general public.

Currently Licensed Mobile Food Dispensers

  • If you ONLY sell prepackaged food that is prepared and packaged at a licensed commissary, you will not be required to apply for a new license.
  • If you plan to cook food on a mobile food vehicle, you will need to apply for the Mobile Food Preparer license.  Food may not be prepared on the vehicle until the vehicle is inspected and the Mobile Food Preparer license is issued.
  • If you use propane or natural gas, a fire safety permit is required in addition to commercial general liability insurance with limits of not less than $350,000 per occurrence.
  • Mobile Food Dispensers will be allowed to provide a “final preparation” of food prior to service.  In order to do so, you will need to complete a Health Consultation and upgrade your Mobile Food Dispenser license.  Contact us at 312.74.GOBIZ / 744.6249 to schedule an appointment.
  • New operation requirements include the installation of a permanently mounted and functioning GPS device in the licensed mobile food vehicle, with the ability to send real-time data to any service that has a publicly-accessible application programming interface (API).  GPS devices must be in compliance by October 1, 2012.

How do I apply?

You may apply in-person at BACP’s Business Assistance Center, 121 North LaSalle Street, Room 800.

Resources