Finding the Right Kitchen Space for Your Specialty Food Business

While regulations vary by state, most states have traditionally not allowed you to manufacture food products in your home kitchen if you intend to sell them. In the past year or two, however, several states have enacted “Cottage Food” laws, whereby start up food producers CAN prepare certain foods in their homes without the usual licensing. Each state has its own guidelines regarding what kind of foods are allowed or prohibited, what the labeling requirements are, where these food products can be sold and more. These laws also cap gross sales, so once your sales go above that amount, you become subject to all the usual regulations.

Your best bet is to do an online search on “cottage food laws” for more information about the specific rules and laws in your particular state.

Some states with or without cottage food laws may still require your home kitchen meet commercial grade kitchen standards and pass a health department inspection. No one wants to find dog hair in their food! (In fact, every cottage food state prohibits pets from being in the home.) And even if you are allowed to use a home kitchen, you might still choose to find a commercial kitchen because it’s just more efficient. Once I moved to a kitchen that had the full size commercial ovens, planetary mixer and tons of counter space, there was no going back! It was so much easier and quicker to produce in that environment.

Ideas

So where do you look for commercial kitchen space? You have a lot of options. When you’re looking, keep an open mind and be willing to be creative. There’s really no reason for you to invest in creating your own commercial kitchen space at the start up phase (costs can easily reach $50,000 in no time!) unless you know for sure you have significant production contracts in hand that will justify the large capital outlay necessary.

One choice is to rent space in a kitchen that is already licensed for commercial preparation. Many food entrepreneurs have started out using space in a restaurant, working there during the hours the restaurant is closed. Check out restaurants that are open only for breakfast and lunch; maybe you can use their space in the evenings. Talk to area caterers about using their kitchens too. Depending on what kind of catering they do, they may have the equipment you need. Many caterers aren’t very busy in their kitchens early in the week, so you could be in there on a Monday or Tuesday.

Some areas of the country have incubator kitchens for early-stage food businesses. These facilities offer shared rental opportunities and are fully equipped and licensed. Sometimes these facilities are connected to a university. In other cases, this type of kitchen may cater to a specific type of food business, vegetarian or baking or canning only, for example. One place to look for these types of kitchens is www.CulinaryIncubator.com. If you’re making jam, beans, salsa or the like, you could find a local cannery or canning facility. This page has a list of canning kitchens: http://pickyourown.org/canneries.htm that may be a good start for you.

Co-op kitchens are commercial kitchens that are set up for a variety of food producers and allow you to rent time and space in their facility. One example of such a facility is the Production Kitchen in West Palm Beach. Look online for this kind of arrangement in your area.

Do you have a Moose, Elk, Knights of Columbus or Shriners lodge in your town? Believe it not, this was the place I used in the very beginning of my business’ life. I knew some of the Shriners from the Chamber of Commerce and they were happy to help me get started. They charged a minimal hourly rate and I used their kitchen on Mondays. The men who were members kind of adopted me as their own “cookie lady” and loved coming through the kitchen to see what was going on when I was working there.

When it was time to move on, I ended up in a local church kitchen. Religious houses, like churches or synagogues, are great options because they aren’t usually in use during the week. And you might be surprised at how well-appointed these facilities are. I was! Not having had reason to be in one for years, I was thrilled to find three full-size commercial gas ovens, full-size baking pans, five or six cooling racks, a 35-gallon Hobart mixer, measuring spoons and cups, and an incredible amount of counter and refrigeration at my disposal. Like I mentioned earlier, there was no turning back to something smaller after that.

As a note, you don’t necessarily have to be a member of the congregation to use their kitchen.

Keep in mind that regardless of where you decide to produce your food product, even though that facility will (presumably) have proper licensing and insurance, you will still need some of your own licensing (at the least a city and/or county business license) and liability insurance.

Payment

Some facilities, like the co-op kitchens, will have set prices for their use. Others, like the restaurants and churches, may not have ever participated in such an arrangement before, so you’ll have some flexibility in working with them to establish something that works for both of you. Make sure you know what kind of budget you have to spend on this. The very first place I used, before the Shriners, I negotiated an amount that turned out to be way too high (I wasn’t selling nearly enough product to cover my rent there), and I had very limited access to it. Fortunately I didn’t have a long-term agreement and I was able to get away after just a few months and move to the Shriners’ facility with much more favorable terms. When I started working at the church kitchen, payment was made as donations to the church because non-profit organizations cannot legally rent out kitchen space for a for-profit businesses.

Persistence

As with anything worth having or finding, you may encounter several rejections or dead ends as you search for the perfect place to produce your food product. I can’t recall exactly how many facilities I called. I left messages that weren’t returned and started hopeful conversations with countless people who never followed through. Be prepared for this journey and know that the right situation IS out there for you. Keep on searching and calling and you will meet with success!

How To Clean Safely To Protect Your Food Business

Creating and sticking to an efficient cleaning schedule is important for any food business, not just because it makes the process of maintaining food hygiene standards easier, but because it also acts as a written record for the dreaded Environmental Health Officer (EHO) inspections. However, allocating tasks and completing them is only half the battle. It is vital that business owners make sure that every task is carried out regularly enough and most importantly, that it is done properly and safely.

Our Top 10 Safety Tips when Cleaning

  1. Before you start cleaning, make sure that food is safely stored out of the way and cannot be contaminated
  2. If you are cleaning a refrigerator, cold room or freezer, ensure that the food is kept at a safe temperature outside the danger zone
  3. Switch off and isolate electrical equipment, such as slicers, refrigerators, vending machines, processing machines with dry hands before you start to clean
  4. Ensure that you know how to use a cleaning chemical safely and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions
  5. Do not leave items to soak in disinfectant for longer than the manufacturer’s recommended contact time because bacteria may become resistant to the chemicals. Never leave them to soak overnight
  6. Wear protective clothing, such as rubber gloves and goggles, appropriate to the job
  7. Never mix chemicals together, they could explode, cause toxic fumes or burn your skin
  8. Work through the stages of cleaning in a way that does not spread dust or dirt, avoid being distracted in a way that puts you, other people or food at risk
  9. Clean and disinfect mops and cloths soon after use and leave them to dry in the air
  10. Always store chemicals, cleaning equipment away from food and only store chemicals in the original labelled containers designed for that purpose

It is important to remember that bacteria can be present on food that arrives at your business and if this is the case, these bacteria will remain present while the food is in storage. It is therefore essential that workspaces are as clean as possible to minimise the chance of such bacteria spreading. Keeping staff up to date with information and informing them of the risks and situations in which bacteria can multiply will give your business the best chance of maintaining a sufficiently hygienic and safe environment.

Cleaning should be considered as part of the job role for anyone who handles food, even in the smallest capacity. Because of this, all staff should be suitably trained for any cleaning tasks they will be expected to carry out so that they know exactly how to go about the process in a safe and reliable manner. As a business owner, if you are depending on your staff to carry out the necessary hygiene maintenance to run an effective food business, you need to be certain that each team member can be trusted to do things properly.

Cleaning should never be an afterthought in any food business and it should be given prominence within the daily routine. A slap dash wipe over surfaces does not mean that they are safe to work on and it won’t be considered as a genuine attempt to uphold Food Hygiene Legislation by any EHO.

A Guide To Spring Cleaning For Food Business Owners

Unfortunately, when it comes to dining out, negative experiences are more memorable than positive ones. Because of this, you can be sure if any diners have a bad time at your restaurant, it won’t be long before their family, friends, neighbours or even casual acquaintances know about it. One thing is for certain though; the worst reputation you can get is one of poor hygiene.

While few can honestly say that they enjoy cleaning, there is some satisfaction to be gained from a job well done. Cleaning should be considered as part of the necessary preparation involved with handling or cooking food. Just as an oven needs to be preheated before a joint of meat goes in, surfaces need to be scrubbed, scoured and wiped before food can be prepared on them. These activities do not need to become a massive chore; once initiated into a routine, staff should be able to complete these actions effectively and regularly. Some chores will require a ‘clean as you go’ approach, others may need to be done daily and some less frequently still. It is important that all staff are aware of what needs doing and when to ensure that the correct level of hygiene is maintained all day, every day.

Aside from the obvious reasons to clean in areas where food is prepared, such as to avoid contamination and make a good impression on customers, there are other things to consider too. As well as keeping bacteria at bay, cleaning also reduces opportunities for bacterial multiplication by removing food particles and a clean area is also much less likely to attract pests. Keeping on top of spillages is also vital for safety in the kitchen as accidents can occur on wet or greasy floors which make it easy to slip. Finally, food establishment owners have a legal obligation to maintain food safety standards to a certain level.

Local authorities are responsible for producing a Food Law Enforcement Plan which identifies measures they will take each year within their area to ensure food safety within food businesses. Businesses therefore need to create and follow a cleaning schedule which can help them maintain a satisfactory status and avoid embarrassing cases of contamination.

So how should food businesses structure their cleaning to make sure it is of a high enough standard?

Six Stages of Cleaning

Stage 1 – Pre-clean. Remove loose and heavy soiling, for example, scrape plates and chopping boards, or soak pans.
Stage 2 – Main clean. Wash with hot water and detergent.
Stage 3 – Rinse. Remove any traces of detergent and food particles with clean hot water.
Stage 4 – Disinfection. Use a chemical disinfectant, and leave it on for the correct contact time.
Stage 5 – Final rinse. Use clean hot water.
Stage 6 – Dry. If possible, leave items to dry naturally in the air, because the use of drying cloths can spread bacteria. If you have to use a cloth try to use disposable paper ones.

The development of a cleaning schedule is an employer’s responsibility. It should set out which tasks should be done, how certain areas should be cleaned and who is responsible for each task. Plenty of time should be allowed to ensure that all cleaning duties are carried out to a satisfactory level.