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I’m considering a food retail location in Northern California with limited physical space. Customers would have to enter through the prep area. Is this allowed?

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You will likely want to consult with a qualified attorney before making a decision on renting or leasing the retail space first.  We are not equipped to, nor do we give legal advice.

At a glance, however, according to California Retail Food Code section 113984.1, 'Consumer access to a food facility through the food preparation area is permissible, at the discretion of the permit holder, if ready-to-eat foods are prepared in approved areas separated from sources of contamination by a space of at least three feet from the consumer and in areas that are separate from raw or undercooked foods.  The route of access shall be separated from the required space by a rail or wall at least three feet high or otherwise clearly delineated.'

In other words, it would seem that if the food prep area that customers enter through is used to prep only ready-to-eat food, and if that route is clearly separated (and by a minimum of three feet) from the customer, then it may be allowed.  Again, this is not legal advice, and before you make a decision about whether to utilize the space for your food retail outlet, we strongly recommend you consult with a qualified attorney.
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