8 Things to Consider when Considering a Culinary Incubator (from CulinaryIncubator.com)
Using a home kitchen for products that you sell is illegal in most parts of the United States, and the Health Department will close you down if they find out. Many cooks wonder how this could happen, but oftentimes it is your success that causes competitors to turn you in to the Health Department.
Culinary incubators work great for some food businesses and not for others. The types of businesses that can most benefit from culinary incubators are those that are small enough that they do not need, nor could they afford a full-time space. They are perfect for start-ups that do not have the capital to invest in building their own kitchen. They allow on-going small food businesses to survive without the enormous overhead of managing and maintaining a licensed commercial kitchen. Culinary Incubators are perfect during tougher economic times, as they allow businesses to cut back on hours of kitchen use, but still stay in businesses with reduced costs to meet reduced demand. Lastly, they can provide a fertile environment for interaction with other chefs who may exchange ideas, help problem-solve, and even be available when you need to borrow a cup of sugar!
Preparing your product in a licensed kitchen is imperative if you want to legally sell your products.
HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points and is an internationally adopted systematic approach to preventing 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.
In order for you to become fluent in the sanitary handling of the food products 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.
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. After this, your culinary incubator should be able to help you with the proper paperwork from their kitchen so that you can legally work. Each market and each state has different procedures, so you need to ask the market manager what applies to their market.
Though the actual cooking process may be the same, where and how you sell your product may effect the type of license you work under. Some Health Departments differentiate between the two 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 Culinary Incubator---make sure that they carry the correct Health Department Licenses for your own particular needs, and if you do both wholesales and retail that it is allowed in that particular facility.
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 cook. However, upon second thought it is not. The problems are two-fold. First, these facilities are not usually licensed, thereby they do not receive regular health department inspections, and may not meet the department’s specifications for commercial food production. Second, and equally important, is that these are non-profit organizations and therefore cannot legally rent out kitchen space for a for-profit business.
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