Category: Food Business Growth

Hiring a Food Safety Consultant: Why and How-To

Food safety is a critical element of business success, but isn’t something you have to do alone. A food safety consultant can provide the support and expertise you need to thrive.  As a small business owner, you have a lot to juggle. From recipe development to negotiating with vendors and buyers to posting on social media, every day is jam packed. Add on writing HACCP plans, passing inspections, and keeping track of recalls and you quickly can get underwater.  A food safety consultant can’t make your product or design perfect Canva graphics for your newsletter, but we can make your food safety load lighter. In this blog post, we will cover how to know if you need a food safety consultant and how to find the right consultant for your business.  9 Reasons You Might Need a Food Safety Consultant There are two types of reasons that you might need a food safety consultant: proactive and reactive.  If you’re being proactive, you are investing in a food safety program before problems arise. You’re constantly improving your food safety practices and making sure that your whole operation is safe.  Proactive reasons to work with a food safety consultant include: If you’re being reactive, you are responding to a food safety issue during or after the fact. You’ve realized that you need a better approach and are seeking support to make it happen. Reactive reasons to work with a food safety consultant include: Ideally, you will be proactive and work with a consultant before you face issues, but that’s not always the case. In any situation, once you decide to work with a food safety consultant you need to find the right person for you. How to Choose the Right Person for your Food Business With a subject as critical as food safety, it’s ok to be picky about who you work with. Find the person with the right qualifications, deliverables, and temperament for you and your business.  Creating a short list of possible consultants is relatively simple. You can ask your network in the food world for recommendations or do a simple google search. The more challenging part is narrowing your list down.  We recommend meeting with any potential food safety consultant. Ask the consultant and yourself the following questions: Asking these questions will allow you to get a comprehensive picture of the potential food safety consultants. You will be able to discern who will be the right fit for you and your business before you’ve invested hundreds or thousands of dollars into their services.  Whether you’re being proactive or reactive, the decision to work with a food safety consultant is always a good one. Finding the right person gets you the support you need to keep your food safe and your business successful. Check back next month for our post about how to work with your consultant and get the most out of your relationship. 

From Home Kitchen to Market: Demystifying Cottage Food Regulations in the Mid-Atlantic

If you’re contemplating starting a business, you may want to begin operating out of your home kitchen. Maybe you have a snack mix that’s so good your friends say you should sell it. Or your jams and jellies have won prizes and now it’s time to bring them to a bigger audience at the local farmers market.  Before you start buying jars in bulk, remember that starting a business from home isn’t as simple as it seems. You may be able to save time and money, but you still need to follow some rules.  If you want to produce in your home you need to look at your local cottage food regulations. These are the laws that govern food production that happens within a private home. They vary from state to state and occasionally from county to county.  In this blog post we’ll cover what cottage food regulations are, the specifics of the regulations in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, and the pros and cons of producing under cottage food regulations.  What are Cottage Food Regulations? Cottage food regulations are the set of laws that allow you to produce food for sale without being in a licensed commercial kitchen. They apply to home kitchens and other non-commercial kitchens such as those in community centers or farms.  Not all foods can be produced under cottage food regulations. The approved foods must be viewed as not potentially hazardous and at a low risk of contamination. This means they won’t support harmful bacteria growth.  The foods allowed under cottage food regulations vary from state to state, but generally they include: The food must not be perishable or require temperature control to remain safe. Therefore, you can’t produce hot food under cottage food regulations nor can you make and sell food that needs to be kept refrigerated like cream-filled baked goods.  In most states you need a license or permit and an inspection of your home kitchen to produce food under cottage food regulations. The food that you produce also needs to be clearly labeled with: Some states have a cap on the amount of money that you can make from selling these foods. Many have limits on where and how the foods can be sold.  Even though you are using your own kitchen to produce the food, cottage food regulations ensure that it is safe and professional.  New York Cottage Food Regulations New York has some of the most lenient cottage food regulations of the mid-Atlantic. There is no permit required, just a free registration with the Department of Agriculture and Markets. The registration does not expire unless you move.  There are also no inspections unless someone registers a complaint in which case they will come out.   Despite the freedom around making food products in New York, the list of foods that can be made is a bit more restrictive than other states, so it’s best to check the regulations before sending in your registration fee. Food made under the New York cottage food regulations can only be sold in the state of New York, and they can be sold as both wholesale and retail items. There is no cap on the amount of money you can make in sales of food produced under the New York cottage food regulations.  For more information on New York cottage food regulations and what they do and do not allow you to make at home and sell, click here. New Jersey Cottage Food Regulations  New Jersey has only allowed cottage food production since 2021, which means that the laws are quite new. Some local health departments haven’t fully learned them yet. Thanks to the NJ Home Bakers Association for getting this legislation through. In New Jersey, you must have a license and a permit to produce food in your home kitchen. The permit must be renewed every two years. Before you can get either of those things, you must pass the food protection manager course.  New Jersey cottage food regulations permit the production of the generally approved foods listed above plus nut butters, vinegars, and mustards.  Food produced under the New Jersey cottage food regulations can only be sold within the state directly to consumers. You can sell online but deliveries and pickups must be made in person. You cannot ship the food items.  There is a $50,000 cap on foods produced under the cottage food regulations and you cannot sell them wholesale.  For more information about New Jersey Cottage Food Regulations, click here. Pennsylvania Cottage Food Regulations  Pennsylvania doesn’t have an official set of cottage food regulations. Instead, the state has “limited food establishment” laws which set forth the parameters for producing food out of a home kitchen. The process is more involved than in either New York or New Jersey, but there are many more freedoms around what you can produce and how you can sell it. In order to be approved to produce in a home kitchen, you must register as a home business, present a business plan, and get your home kitchen inspected.  If you are producing certain foods, they will need to be lab tested before they are approved. This includes: In general, Pennsylvania allows cottage food production of most products that are not considered hazardous. They are one of the few states that allows for production of meat jerky in a home kitchen.  Pennsylvania allows foods produced under these regulations to be sold as retail or wholesale items. The state also allows for online sales and shipping. There is no cap on sales of food produced in home kitchens in Pennsylvania.  For more information about Pennsylvania limited food establishment laws, click here.   Pros and Cons of Producing under Cottage Food Laws Producing under cottage food regulations can be a great way to start a business, but it has its limitations. The positives include: However, the limitations of cottage food regulations include: Overall, cottage food regulations provide a way into business for people looking to make foods that are

Audit Case Study: The Value of a Food Safety Consultant 

Third-party audits are one of the tools used to keep our food supply safe and inspected. Larger stores and distributors often require proof of a third-party audit as part of their wholesale purchasing agreements. Therefore, as your food business grows, you need to be prepared to get one. A third-party audit is an audit conducted by an independent organization not affiliated with either the seller or the purchaser of the food item (For more information on audits, check out this blog post). The purpose of the third-party audit is to get an unbiased assessment and verification of the safety and quality of food production.  Third-party audits are nothing to be afraid of if your food safety program is up-to-date and comprehensive. However, many businesses are lacking crucial documentation of processes which can make the audit process far more stressful. In this case-study, we’ll look at the journey of a client who found themselves in a predicament when asked for a third-party audit. We’ll explore how Food Safety Mid Atlantic is helping them overcome the hurdles and get their program set up.  The Initial Dilemma: The Request for a Third-Party Audit Our client, a small food business, had been selling to Whole Foods for several years without needing a third-party audit. However, once Amazon acquired Whole Foods, they were asked to provide one.  The client had no audit on hand, nor did they have documentation of processes required to do an audit. They knew that to keep selling to Whole Foods; they needed to develop a comprehensive food safety program and obtain the audit. First, the client reached out to several auditing bodies to find out what the audit would include and how much it would cost. They were given a fixed price of several thousand dollars for the audit alone, plus an additional three times that cost for the templates to create their SOPs and GMPs. This price covered only the templates, not support for filling them out.  This exorbitant cost and lack of support dismayed our client.  Reaching Out for Assistance and Preparing for the Audit Fortunately, before committing to a high cost program with limited support, the client remembered meeting Cathy at a conference. They reached out to Food Safety Mid Atlantic, and we were happy to help.  First, we conducted a GAP analysis of the business, which essentially served as a self-audit to identify the gaps and shortcomings in the client’s food safety practices.  After the GAP analysis, we sat down with the client and discussed what to focus on and how best to proceed. They needed written processes and procedures and a way to log data. Since this was an established business, we recommend that they immediately begin using a food safety software such as Food Ready to keep track of their paperwork and logs. For newer businesses, we would start with a collection of Google Documents and Sheets.  We advised the client to inform Whole Foods and their distributors that they had begun developing and implementing the food safety program needed to get the audit. This transparency and commitment to improvement were well-received by all parties involved because the client could show they were working with a food safety consultant. Challenges Faced: Time and Financial Considerations Though the client is now in the beginning stages of getting their paperwork together, creating a documented food safety program, and eventually getting the audit, it has not been what they expected.  There is substantial time and money required to have a strong food safety program. Our client was originally given 180 days to prepare for their audit. Even assuming a written plan and a full-time food safety person, that would be a tight turnaround. Given where our client is starting from and the fractional services from Food Safety Mid Atlantic, we are expecting the process to take closer to eighteen months.  Food safety doesn’t come cheap. There is a high audit fee in addition to the cost of preparing all the documentation. Our client is relatively well established, but even small start-up companies end up paying thousands of dollars to set up their food safety programs. If you’re considering starting, or expanding a business, be sure to budget more than you expect for food safety costs.  The Value of A Food Safety Consultant A solid, documented food safety program is the backbone of a food business, especially once you begin selling to major retailers. It’s necessary for getting your third-party audit, and for producing high-quality, consistent products.  As the case study above shows, having the support and guidance of a food safety consultant helps you navigate the complexities of building your program and obtaining your audit. The consultant can assist you to conduct a self-audit, identify areas for improvement, and create your food safety program. Being able to show evidence of your consultant also helps you maintain the trust of the retailers and distributors that purchase from you.  If you are in the same position of the client above and you need to build up your food safety program, create SOPs and GMPs, or prepare for an audit, we are here to help. 

Grow Your Business with Food Safety

A good food safety program allows you to scale up your food business without sacrificing the quality or consistency of your product. With a larger reach, you can get your product into more kitchens, solve more consumer problems, and make more of a profit to keep growing.  Most conversations about scaling up focus on capital, marketing, and sales. These are important, but if you aren’t also thinking about food safety and production, you’ll be left in the lurch when it comes time to actually get your product on more shelves.  Growing your business requires intention, planning, and a big dose of food safety. A high-quality food safety program ensures you can produce a consistent product at the scale you need to sell in more stores to a bigger audience.  Food Safety Requirements for Scaling Up The first stage of scaling up a food business often means moving from a home kitchen to a commercial kitchen to have more space to make your product. Commercial kitchens are larger, with different equipment from a home kitchen. Your production process will probably change and you need to make sure that your food safety plans reflect the changes.  After working in a commercial kitchen for a while, you may realize you need even more production capacity and choose to work with a co-manufacturer. A co-manufacturer is an existing company that will manufacture your product for you. This saves you the time it takes to produce the product and means you don’t have to purchase expensive equipment like bottling lines.  Co-manufacturers require food safety plans that guide the process for making your product. These differ from your plans for the commercial kitchen because they incorporate new equipment and larger batch sizes. The co-manufacturers need clear guidance on how to make the product and how to keep it safe from pathogens or allergens. You should also ask the co-manufacturers for their own food safety programs to make sure that your product is being made by a safe and trustworthy company.  Food Safety Benefits to Scaling Up Food safety plans and processes ensure you are following all the regulations as you grow your business. Working with a food safety expert to create these plans also gives you an extra set of eyes to make sure your product stays consistent and high quality even as you scale up.  Foolproof food safety plans keep your product uniform even as you stop being the one to make each batch. A thorough plan means that each product is made in exactly the same way as the one before it, which results in a reliable product that customers will purchase again and again.  A food safety expert can also help you make sure you’re sourcing the ingredients you want in the quantities you need, that your product fits the dietary restrictions you say it will, and that your labels are accurate and informative. At Food Safety Mid Atlantic, we value our food safety plans, but we equally focus on big picture food safety support that allows our clients to scale up. The following case study shows the true benefits of a focus on food safety as a company grows. Scaling Up Case Study: Work with a Co-Manufacturer A client who was ready to scale up and looking to work with a co-manufacturer approached us. The co-manufacturer required that the client have a food safety plan for their product and actively took part in the conversation about how to create a plan that was actionable in their facility.  This client had been making their product in a commercial kitchen, and wanted their product made in a larger volume by the co-manufacturer. The ultimate goal of the project was to end up with a product that had the same level of consistency and safety regardless of where their product was made.  Our food safety expert honed in on three areas of this client’s food safety process that needed attention: This client had been using locally based distributors for most of the ingredients in their product when they were producing at a smaller scale. However, we had to have some hard conversations about whether those distributors could handle this increase in production.  Would a local farmer be able to provide them with enough produce for larger batches? If said farmer wasn’t getting tested for microbial safety would the co-manufacturer be willing to use those ingredients? Could smaller distributors provide the volume of ingredients that the co-manufacturer required?  These weren’t straightforward questions to answer, but ultimately they led to a sourcing plan that ensured high-quality, safe ingredients in the right quantities to keep the product consistent.  Our food safety expert also noticed discrepancies in some ingredients purchased from larger distributors. The client intended to make a vegan product, but the distributor did not guarantee the cocoa was dairy free and the client did not list milk as an allergen on the label. Our close attention to detail allowed the client to catch the error and switch cocoas before it led to a potential recall down the road.  Finally, our food safety expert inspected the client’s labels and noticed that they failed to list sesame, the newest major allergen. The client fixed this error before the labels went to the co-manufacturer and ended up on hundreds of products.  Supporting this client through scaling up to work with a co-manufacturer wasn’t simple, but it was worth the time and effort. Our client can now put their time and energy into product development, marketing, and growing their company while knowing that their product is being made safely and consistently.  Before you make the leap with your food business, stop and check your food safety processes. The goal of scaling up is to have more product on more shelves and this might mean making the product in different facilities. A solid food safety plan means you end up with product quality that drives repeat purchases and allows you to continue to grow.  If you’re ready to take that first