4 October 2012
Starting a food business from home – what you need to know about hygiene
Many of the food producers’ businesses on The Artisan Food Trail have started from humble beginnings – the home kitchen. Only when they have needed to increase production they’ve moved into catering premises.
Some AFT producers still do operate from their own kitchens.
We wanted to find out whether it’s a difficult step to take and if there are any pitfalls that people should know about. Getting the lowdown from the director of The Red Cat Partnership and Artisan Food Trail member, Sarah Daniels, about starting a food business from home proved to be very useful and surprisingly straightforward.
AFT: With more people wanting to turn their food loving hobbies into businesses, just how easy is it to get started?
SD: We are often asked whether people can set up catering businesses from home – normally the answer is yes. All caterers making food for others to consume need to be mindful of a few simple tips for ensure the food that is produced is safe to eat – that is it is not going to make the consumer ill or indeed traumatise them if they find a hair in it!
AFT: Would people be expected to completely re-fit their kitchens
to meet top catering grades or is a standard domestic kitchen acceptable?
SD: Firstly we would need to make sure that the area going to be used for food preparation is hygienic – this does not mean wall to wall stainless steel – the surfaces need to be of a non-porous nature and be able to be kept clean.
AFT: Most home kitchens don’t have much room, so is it okay for personal foodstuffs to share a shelf with those we’re using for the business?
SD: It would be wise to separate (in time) home preparation and storage of food from the ‘commercial’ side; it is essential that raw and soily food is kept separate from ready to eat foods. In addition items such as nuts would be best to be kept in sealed boxes or packets.
AFT: There are certain things we do at home which are probably fine if we’re cooking for ourselves, but what would you advise people to consider if they are to keep a hygienic kitchen?
SD: We also advise people to remove the cat or other pets! Not do the domestic laundry at the same time, relocate children’s toys/paperwork etc anything that could find its way into the food that should not be there; it is wise not to use chipped or damaged bowls or equipment – it might be your favourite but I am not fond of eating bits of pastry brush or worse still glass.
AFT: Er, we’ve sometimes eaten things which are just past their dates or cut the mouldy bits off the cheese but obviously if you’re making food for other people you need to be more careful.
SD: Before you start to prepare it is essential that the ingredients are safe; that they have been safely stored, at the correct temperature and are in date (use bys are essential)
AFT: We often hear that some things shouldn’t be kept in the fridge like tomatoes, chocolate and even eggs. We always refrigerate our eggs but what are the rules for commercial storage?
SD: High risk foods such as dairy and protein foods need to be stored in the fridge – the guidance is that eggs should be stored in the fridge – this keeps the multiplication of bacteria down – but you can remove them about 30 minutes before baking to get them up to room temperature; eggs should be used within their date code too!
AFT: When preparing food cleanliness is paramount but just how fastidious should we be?
SD: The preparation area must be clean – a once over with the anti-bac spray and a clean fresh cloth is a must.
You the food handler must be fit for food prep! So we advise that any long hair is tied back, jewellery is kept to a minimum, nails are short and clothes are clean – and no beads or dangly/fluffy bits that could get in the food and that you are wearing a clean apron!
Hands must be clean – after all we are going to be touching the food that someone else is going to be eating. Ideally you would have a double or 1½ sink in your kitchen so that you can always wash your hands – but a nearby wash hand basin will suffice; hand washing needs to be thorough and frequent.
AFT: Some people might struggle into work when they have a bit of a cold and when running their own business, they battle on regardless but is this a good idea if you’re handling food?
SD: It sounds obvious but please do not prepare food if you are not feeling 100% – the food will be able to transmit infections to others. The guidance is that you should be symptom free for 48 hours. At this time of the year we are beginning to get the sniffles so make sure you can prepare food safely.
AFT: We know that it is very important to make sure meat is properly cooked to avoid bugs, so what do people need to observe and do they need any fancy thermometers?
SD: We cook food to make it safe – but also to make it taste great. Do make sure that items containing meat/eggs are cooked thoroughly to the core/centre; you could use a clean metal skewer/knife for this – you do not need a probe!
Sarah Daniels is director of The Red Cat Partnership a health and safety consultancy based in Norwich.
Courses are available covering food safety with a team of chartered environmental health practitioners.