by George Looby, DVM
The recent upsurge in consumer interest in produce grown nearby has prompted a similar interest in farm-grown processed foods such as jams, jellies, honey and maple syrup. These products bring a diversity to farm stands and farmers markets that is likely to result in increased sales. Realizing the need the combined Extension Services, UConn and the University of Rhode Island have developed a program to assist those with an interest in selling home grown processed foods at their stands and markets. The program, entitled “Processing Food for sale from your Connecticut on-farm kitchen” was held on April 15 and 16, 2015 at the Middlesex County Extension Center in Haddam, CT.
Day one was devoted to exploring the feasibility of starting a program to augment an existing business. Day two, the attendees looked at the nitty gritty of turning their home kitchen into a food processing facility.
Dianne Hirsch, Extension Educator at the Haddam Office acted as the moderator for both days of the workshop, she was one of the driving forces in developing the program. On day one, an overview of regulations that pertain to on-the-farm processing was reviewed. The regulations that exist between the New England States are not uniform in regard the regulations. Given the current trends some of the states are now enacting legislation allowing the on-farm/residential kitchen. The State of Rhode Island has established some guidelines that processors must conform to in order to legally offer home processed food for sale.
The Department of Health/Division of Food Protection is the agency that oversees such activities in the state. Among the requirements that must be met is the mandate that foods home processed must be locally grown.
Other Rhode Island regulations include the need for a two compartment sink or a dishwasher with an operating water temperature of 150° F. There must be a space with sufficient area to handle dirty, prior to wash, produce and clean, after wash, produce and the surfaces must be nonabsorbent and made of non corrosive material. Bathrooms opening into the kitchen must have self-closing doors. Private wells must be tested once a year. No pets are allowed in the food storage or preparation areas. No domestic or home cooking may be done while processing farm home food. Garbage must be kept in covered receptacles and removed once a day. No laundry may be done in the kitchen while food preparation is going on. Recipes with ingredients, quantities, processing times and procedures are kept in the kitchen. Labels should contain list of ingredients, farm name, address and phone number. Products produced can be sold only at farmers markets and farm stands. Certificates are to be displayed in the kitchen where processing is done. All facilities are subject to inspection.
Rhode Island farm processors are charged a $65 registration fee, they must display a list of products produced, a copy of the well water test, kitchen minimum housing standards and a sketch of the farm property. Connecticut regulations by contrast are much less well defined. On-farm processing oversight is carried out by the Food and Standards Division of the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection.
In Connecticut, farm-based residential kitchen manufacturing is exempt from inspection with the provision that only crops grown on your farm can be used for production. Private wells must be negative for coliform bacteria, pets and children are not allowed in food preparation areas as well as all those not involved in processing. Sales are restricted to direct market sales only. A processor may manufacture jams, jellies, preserves, maple syrup pickles, salsas and hot sauce. No baked goods may be offered for sale. Labels must bear the legend, “Not prepared in a government inspected kitchen”.
Other New England States have similar regulations that apply to home food preparation and for those contemplating a move in that direction it would be advisable to consult with appropriate state agencies before getting too involved in planning. Any new venture requires careful planning and too often the glow of something new and challenging wears thin quickly if failure to plan carefully creates unexpected pitfalls. The instructors pointed out that before making any moves to bring in an experienced processor for advice as to how to avoid making start up mistakes.
One of the factors in food production that is getting an increasing amount of attention is that of food safety. It has been estimated that there are 48 million cases of food borne illness each year in this country, with 128,000 hospitalized and 3,000 deaths. The last thing that anyone entering the food preparation business wants on their record is having been responsible for someone becoming ill from eating something prepared in their home kitchen.
During the first day much of the business side of launching a new product line was reviewed, even though the addition of a new product to the total sales of a farm stand might be small, careful attention to certain time proven details are still important. Among the factors that should be considered is that of how this new addition will fit into the existing operation in so far as financing, time commitment, licensing regulations, marketing, facilities, personnel and emergency management.
Day two was devoted to the actual processing of products that can be processed for sale in the farm kitchen. The key words that apply across the board in any and all food processing facilities is sanitation together with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs). Sanitation together with personal hygiene; kitchen, building and grounds; equipment and utensils; processes and controls; storing and transporting are included in GMP’s.
Canning has been practiced as a method of food preservation for many years, dating back to the mid 1800s. It still is an inexpensive, predictable method of insuring that fruits and vegetables are available long after the season has passed. The entire course was concentrated on high acid foods which can be processed in a water bath and may be sold legally at farm stands. Foods that fall into the low acid group such as beans must be processed under pressure. Foods processed in this way cannot be sold legally at farm stands and farmers markets. Many readers have eaten jams and jellies that were sealed with paraffin and suffered no ill effects however this method is not legal for the retail trade. They must be sold in self-sealing jars to reduce the possibility of contamination to the minimum.
The program concluded with a review of the importance of good record keeping. Failure to keep good records can have serious consequences if questions should arise regarding any aspect of the production process. This program was designed to give possible entry level food processors a through overview of the pros and cons of what they need to consider before making a commitment.
Food processing workshop
by George Looby, DVM