Tag: food safety

Shipping Basics: How to Keep Food Safe In Transit

You work hard to keep your food production processes as safe as possible: From HACCP plans to SOPs, your systems are designed to produce safe, high quality products. But, what happens between production and the arrival of your food at someone’s door? Do you have shipping and packaging plans that take food safety into account?  Are you doing your best to keep your food safe as it travels from your production facility to your customers’ homes? As we approach the busy winter holiday season, and you’re planning for increased orders, it’s the perfect time to make sure your shipping practices are food safe and designed for success. There are four main categories of products that require special care when shipping: frozen foods, refrigerated foods, fragile foods, and fresh produce. In this blog post we will cover how to ship all of them safely. Food Safety Shipping Basics Packaging is the most important part of shipping food safely. The packaging keeps the food at the correct temperature and protects it from the possibility of rough handling by your shipping partner.  Your packaging should be sturdy above all else. It’s great if you have beautiful branded packaging or sustainable packaging, but that should come second to its ability to keep your food safe and intact. If a customer opens a package to find a cracked jar of jam, they don’t care how aesthetically pleasing the box was.  Your packaging should also be the correct size for your product. It’s tempting to snap up a deal on a certain size of box, but if that box is too big or too small for your average order size, it’s not going to do you any good. Plus, extra space means extra air flow which means the temperature in the box increases more rapidly; this, in turn, leads to faster spoilage of your food product. Finally, it’s important to remember that no matter how hard you try, you can’t control the shipping conditions. (Though you can likely negotiate with your shipping partner to get better rates and service as your volume of packages shipped increases. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need!) We’ve all had packages that were sent overnight but arrive three days later. Once the package leaves your facility, it’s out of your hands. So your job is to pack it as well and as safely as possible, then hope for the best. All packaging should be designed to withstand an extra day or two of shipping chaos. How to Safely Ship Frozen Food  The number one priority with shipping frozen food is preventing the food from thawing. This requires investment on your part, but it’s better to pay for some ice and extra shipping fees than it is to refund an entire order that thawed during transit and became unsafe.  Frozen food needs to be shipped in an insulated container with a good seal. If you can prevent warm air from entering the package, it will remain cold for longer. Lots of people use styrofoam coolers placed inside a sturdy box. If you’re concerned about sustainability, there are also options for recyclable thermal panels. Inside your package you need room for your product and the ice that will keep it cold. Depending on how long the package will be in transit, you may want to use dry ice. A general rule is 5 pounds of dry ice per 24 hours in transit. Otherwise, there are lots of options for ice packs. In either case, make sure your product is packaged securely so that it doesn’t come in contact with the dry ice or condensation from the ice packs.  Label the outside of your package “Keep Refrigerated” so that the recipients know to move the contents to the fridge or freezer as soon as possible. If you’re sending frozen food for the first time, find a few friends or trusted customers around the country and send test packages before you officially launch your shipping program. Test shipping allows you to check that the food arrives intact and still frozen.  How to Safely Ship Refrigerated Food  Perishable, refrigerated food requires many of the same considerations as frozen food. You need an insulated package that will hold the internal temperature. It’s recommended to use cold packs rather than dry ice when shipping refrigerated items as they will keep your food cold but not freeze it.  Again, label the outside of your package “Keep Refrigerated.”  For both frozen and refrigerated foods, be aware of the climate you are sending the package in. Some companies choose not to ship certain items in the summer because they know that they won’t stay cold. Others add ice packs to shelf stable items like chocolate just to make sure they don’t melt. Use the proper packaging to keep your product in its ideal state. No one wants a melted chocolate bar or caramel corn that’s all stuck together.  How to Safely Ship Fragile Foods  Fragile foods are anything that could be damaged in transit. This includes things in glass jars, sealed liquids like syrups, delicate cookies and crackers, and more. The fragile foods aren’t usually at risk of becoming unsafe due to temperature abuse, but they can become inedible in other ways.  Make sure to pack these foods extra carefully. Wrap any glass jars or bottles in bubble wrap or recyclable honeycomb paper. Add lots of padding to minimize movement within the container and protect the delicate food items. In some cases it may be best to pack a smaller box within a padded larger box. For items that may spill, make sure to add plastic liners to your packaging. You don’t want to damage your own package or those around it.  How to Safely Ship Fresh Produce  Fresh produce can be a particularly tricky item to ship as it is fragile, has a limited window of freshness, and is often awkwardly shaped.  Make sure to cushion fresh produce as much as possible with packing peanuts, shredded

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

Food Allergy Tips – Protect your Customers and Your Business

Food allergies are a major factor in the lives of millions of Americans. Allergic reactions range from minor discomfort to full anaphylaxis. There are over 170 foods that have been identified as causing allergic reactions, but the majority of reactions come from the Big Nine: milk, eggs, nuts, fish, crustaceans, shellfish, wheat, soy and sesame. For many years, there were only eight major allergens identified by the FDA. Sesame was added to the list on January 1, 2023. If any of these nine allergens is in a product, even in trace amounts, it must, by federal law, be identified on the food label. In this blog post, we’ll cover why it’s important to protect consumers and your business with allergen labeling, the hidden spots where allergens may be found, and the food safety practices you can implement to protect people with allergies.  Why label allergens? Though allergens are only dangerous to the person sensitive to the allergen, for those people they can be deadly. The only way allergy sufferers can be safe is to avoid their triggers. Clear product labels help allergy sufferers find which foods they can consume safely. One of the main ways food manufacturers keep people with allergies safe is through allergen labeling. The FDA’s Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) of 2004 established the original eight food allergens with the requirement that they must be identified on food labels.  When food allergens are on a food label, it’s easier for individuals with food allergies and their caregivers to identify which foods are safe to eat. Thus, labeling creates consumer trust and allows people with allergies to live with less fear of accidentally consuming the allergen. However, a third of FDA food recalls are due to allergens not listed on the label. Labeling allergens is particularly valuable in instances where the allergen is a minor component of an ingredient or may not be expected in the product. For example, milk may be present in chocolate chips. Sesame can be present in granola or crackers. And, you might find eggs in soups or soup mixes. Creating An Allergen-Aware Food Safety Program If you produce a product that contains a food allergen, especially one of the Big Nine, it’s imperative that your food safety plans and practices include protocols for managing allergens in your facility and production process.  You need an allergen control program which includes specific Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for every step of the production process involving allergens. Make sure to include: Allergens frequently get into food through cross contact with equipment, the movement of individuals throughout your facility, and the flow of air in your space. Airborne allergens are a real risk. It may be worthwhile to ban certain allergens from your facility if you are making an allergen-free product.  The risk of mislabeling allergens or having an unlabeled product is two-fold. You could cause harm to a person with an allergy and you could cause harm to your business. Mislabeled or unlabeled foods will need to be recalled and can lead to a loss of consumer trust; both of which  could put a small food business out of business.  The best way to support your consumers with food allergies and prevent a costly recall is to have a comprehensive allergen policy. If your allergen policy needs a refresh to account for sesame or you never had one to start with, schedule a free consultation to get the process started. 

Start with the FDA Good Manufacturing Practices to Build a Strong Food Safety Plan

Having a good food safety program is key to food business success. Yet, it’s hard to know where to start with creating your plans and documents. The FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) are a set of standards that regulate food safety. They serve as a model for creating a successful food safety plan.  The GMPs are not comprehensive, but they identify key risks that may exist in your process and show how you and your team can control them.  Beyond their value in shaping food safety plans, GMPs are regulated and inspected by the FDA. Even if you are a small producer, the FDA can inspect you on your GMPs. Therefore, it’s extra important that your food safety processes are in compliance. The GMPs contain five main areas of focus. In this blog post, we will discuss those areas and their importance, and share the value of GMPs for your food safety plan overall.  Good Manufacturing Practices 5 Areas of Focus The FDA has organized the Good Manufacturing Practices into five areas of focus. These areas each address a part of the food production and storage process. The overall goal of the GMPs is to keep hazards out of the finished product.  Designing a food safety plan that addresses each of these areas of focus will ensure you are adhering to the GMPs. It will also guarantee that you are keeping your product as food safe as possible. These are the five areas of focus covered in the FDA GMPs: 1. General Provisions  This section outlines the expectations for people who produce the food. It outlines the responsibilities of the business owners and management regarding when people can be allowed to work after illness. It also details personal hygiene requirements and the expectations around food safety training.  Example from the GMP regulations: Personnel responsible for identifying sanitation failures or food contamination should have a background of education or experience, or a combination thereof, to provide a level of competency necessary for production of clean and safe food 2. Buildings and Facilities This section contains requirements for the physical space where the food is produced. It includes expectations around the layout, facilities, and cleaning practices necessary to ensure a safe environment.  Example from the GMP regulations: The plant and facilities shall: Be constructed in such a manner that floors, walls, and ceilings may be adequately cleaned and kept clean and kept in good repair; that drip or condensate from fixtures, ducts and pipes does not contaminate food, food-contact surfaces, or food-packaging materials; and that aisles or working spaces are provided between equipment and walls and are adequately unobstructed and of adequate width to permit employees to perform their duties and to protect against contaminating food or food-contact surfaces with clothing or personal contact.  3. Equipment  This section explains the expectations around keeping equipment safe and sanitary. In particular, it covers controls for regulating temperatures and notifying employees if they fluctuate too much.  Example from the GMP regulations: Seams on food-contact surfaces shall be smoothly bonded or maintained to minimize accumulation of food particles, dirt, and organic matter and thus minimize the opportunity for growth of microorganisms. 4. Production and Process Controls This section discusses the sanitation processes that need to be in place to keep food safe. It also covers how to prevent contamination during post-production storage and distribution.  Example from the GMP regulations: Raw materials, other ingredients, and rework shall be held in bulk, or in containers designed and constructed to protect against contamination and shall be held at such temperature and relative humidity and in such a manner as to prevent the food from becoming adulterated within the meaning of the act.  5. Defect Action Levels  This section acknowledges that sometimes foods that are produced safely still contain low levels of natural or unavoidable defects that are not hazardous to health. It defines the maximum allowed levels of defects such as insects, rodent filth, and mold. The FDA still expects these levels to be as low as possible and provides guidance on how to manage them.  Example from the GMP regulations: The mixing of a food containing defects above the current defect action level with another lot of food is not permitted and renders the final food adulterated within the meaning of the act, regardless of the defect level of the final food. Together, these focus areas show how to safely operate a food safe production facility. For more information about the specifics contained within each of the focus areas, refer to this FDA resource.  Why the Good Manufacturing Practices are Valuable The Good Manufacturing Practices are an invaluable tool for food safety, both for new processors and existing food facilities.  If you are just starting to produce at scale, the GMPs are a great template for creating a food safety plan. Make sure you cover all the areas discussed above to give you a strong, comprehensive food safety plan.  If you have an SOP that documents how you will carry out each process, you will be in compliance with the regulations. In particular, the GMPs are valuable because they cover personnel requirements and detail what to do in the case of bacteria cross contamination and allergen cross contact. Most bacterial and viral food contamination is caused by the people making the food. The GMP guidance on personal health and hygiene, and instructions on behavior help you control that risk.  Cross contact is a big issue for allergens. Nearly a third of food recalls are because an allergen was not listed on the label. The GMPs clearly outline how to prevent cross contact between allergens and what to do if an allergen gets into a food. If you can catch this before the allergen ends up in the final product, you save on the cost of having a recall due to misbranding and you protect your consumer.  It’s important to show buyers and auditors you are continually improving your food safety program. Thus, even established businesses with great

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