Starting a Food Business?

1.   Can I just use my home kitchen?

Using a home kitchen for products that you sell is illegal in NY unless done in an NYS Ag. & Mkts. inspected facility.  In some counties the Health Department regulates catering entrepreneurs. In NY, the Home Processing Exemption is for using your kitchen to make baked products  sold at a farmer’s market, but internet sales are not allowed.  Visit NY’s Agriculture and Markets website to learn more specifics.

2.  Is a NY Harvest Kitchen collaborative right for you?

Harvest Kitchens in NY, inspected by Ag. & Mkts. and the Health Dept., are ideal for caterers, small scale food processors, local food product developers, food demonstrators and kitchen gardeners for starting a food business. A Harvest Kitchen is a place  where food collaboration is queen. For example, Hometown Foods in Kinderhook, functions like this

  • Frozen and vacuum packaged meats from USDA facilities arrive prepackaged for meal kit creation (stir fries, crock pot meals, casseroles).
  • Farmers bring wheels of hard cheese for cutting and vacuum packaging into convenient sized portions labeled for sale to consumers.  Pre-cut and vacuum packaged small portions control calories and keep cost of meals low while providing great mouth feel and flavor and sustainable returns for the dairy farmer.
  • Boxes of farmers’ freshly picked greens are washed, packaged and cooled for customer convenience and storage longevity.
  • Gluts of freshly picked vegetables are tray frozen and vacuum packaged in 4 oz. to 16 oz. portion sizes for future soup, stir fry and vegetable side dishes. Freshly made salads,  soups or main dishes, baked goods, frozen and vacuum packaged vegetables, canned acidified foods, presoaked and cooked dry beans and grains and vacuum packaged hard cheeses combine in many ways.
  • Start-ups that do not have the capital to invest in building their own kitchen or having an ordering website are ideal collaborators.  Small food businesses survive by sharing the overhead of insuring, managing and maintaining a licensed commercial kitchen.  Harvest Kitchens are perfect during tougher economic times as lower costs offer consumers reasonable food prices.  Harvest Kitchens can provide a supportive environment by:
      • helping local farmers wash and package fresh produce;
      • developing new value added products for farmers’ new and existing plant varieties;
      • test marketing new products to local focus groups at community locations;
      • teaching consumers how to cook with frozen and canned local products in ways that retain nutrients;
      • developing video clips of cooking and food preservation demonstrations;
      • providing nutritionists and eaters complete nutrition information so that recommendations can be made to meet individual health challenges;
      • training culinary interns who can move on to work in other Harvest Kitchens
      • repackaging bulk dry ingredients
  1. Which license is necessary for preparing freshly made products?
    • Preparing your freshly made product in a Health Department licensed kitchen is imperative if you want to sell your freshly made products legally at a farmer’s market or as a caterer.  If you want to can, freeze, repackage from bulk or bake products and sell to stores, individuals or group homes, you need an Ag. & Mkts. 20C license in NY. Meats need to be slaughtered in a USDA inspected facility.  Meats come to the Harvest Kitchen pre-cut, frozen and vacuum packaged if you intend to re-sell it in a meal kit. Caterers do not need this, as they are preparing the meat for serving fresh.
  2. What does HACCP-compliant mean
    • HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points and is an internationally adopted systematic processing approach used to prevent food-born illness. In the food industry this system has been designed for and applies to chefs, cooks, equipment, processing, packaging and transportation of food. You need only read about E. coli outbreaks in the food system and you’ll quickly appreciate regulations.  The recipes used at our kitchen are approved without a plan because of the freezing process.
  3. How do HACCP rules effect me?
    • In order for you to become fluent in the sanitary handling of the food products that you cook, most Health Departments require you to become familiar with effective approaches to food safety. There are short courses available throughout the country as well as on-line. You will then take an exam which should lead to a Food Handler’s Certificate. Increasingly, in most states the Health Department requires someone who is a Certified Food Handler to be on premise in your commercial kitchen whenever you are cooking.
  4. Can I sell my products at the Farmer’s Market?
    • Once you are working out of a licensed kitchen you become qualified to sell your products at a Farmer’s Market. You will need to contact the market manager where you wish to work, and receive an offer to join the market. Each market and each state has different procedures, so you need to ask the market manager what applies to their market.
  5. Is there a difference between wholesale and retail food processing and can this effect the kitchen I use?
    • Though the actual cooking process may be the same, where and how you sell your product may effect the type of license under which you work. Some Health Departments differentiate between the 2 types of licenses and maintain that you need wholesale vs. retail or visa versa. Other departments let the line blur, or do not enforce this differentiation in licenses. You should check this out when you are looking for a Kitchen to use.   Make sure that they carry the correct Health Department Licenses for your own particular needs, and if you do both wholesale and retail sales, be sure that it is allowed in that particular facility.
  6. Could I use a church kitchen instead of a Harvest Kitchen?
    • The idea of renting one of the nice large kitchens that exist in many churches and synagogues – and even schools, sounds at first like a perfect place for you to make products for sale. The problems are two-fold. First, these facilities are not usually licensed to produce products for sale.    Second, and equally important, is that these are non-profit organizations and therefore cannot legally rent out kitchen space for a for-profit business.
    • One way that a church kitchen can help its membership is to create a Cooking Club. The magical potential  is that a club can use the kitchen to create healthy frozen foods that go to club members.  Other cooking and food preservation skills can also be taught while accessing wholesale priced foods from local farmers and wholesale distributors.  Bring these places back into service and have fun for young and old at the same time.  Join our Harvest Kitchen Network so we can help you with the details.
Written on November 18th, 2011

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