As we write in our blog last month on organizing your kitchen, take your kitchen setup seriously and make the time to put systems in place that ensure food safety. By keeping things under control and practicing proper procedures, you avoid stress, inefficiency and food safety issues.
Following are the last couple steps on organizing your kitchen so operating your business doesn’t interfere with your love of cooking — or time with your family.
Step 4: Manage Time
Managing your time is integral to your cottage food business mix. To reduce stress, increase enjoyment and ensure profits, keep the following considerations in mind.
Plan your schedule
How and when you work in the kitchen will depend on what you’re making. Canned items like jams and jellies can be made weeks before a sale. Your production schedule for those items will be based around when the ingredients are available. If you’re making strawberry jam from your bountiful garden patch, you’ll need to reserve time blocks for major canning sessions during that peak June harvest. You can then label at your leisure and sell year-round.
For baked and other fresh goods, your production timing needs to be closer to the actual sale. If you’re making one key item, like a large order of cinnamon rolls for a breakfast meeting at an office, you can get everything organized the night before, bake the rolls that morning and you’re done. However, if you’re preparing for a farmers’ market or festival booth where you envision selling a range of baked items, plan your production schedule accordingly. See if there are some items, like cookies, that can be made a day or two in advance so you can free up the day before for the items that need to be super fresh, like bread or muffins.
Establish family boundaries
While cottage food laws open up a wealth of stay-at-home business opportunities, integrating a business into established home routines isn’t always easy, especially if everyone in the family is used to 24/7 kitchen access and snacks on demand. Carve out specific time blocks for your business kitchen work. While an older child may be capable of offering assistance, younger children likely to stick fingers in batter should be kept out of the kitchen when you’re filling an order. Rearrange your refrigerator magnet collection and post your production schedule for the week for all to see. When planning your day, avoid letting your business take over your life. Of course, you want to care for your customers. But this shouldn’t come at the expense of your family or personal well-being.
Take physical care
Standing on your feet for hours in the kitchen can quickly add up; you’ll feel it in your bones. Remember that by caring for yourself, you’re boosting your business success in the long run. Keep changing positions. Sit down and do certain activities at a tabletop as much as possible, like decorating cookies. Take stretch breaks and do a few yoga moves to get the blood flowing in between tasks. Get outside for some fresh air, perhaps with a walk around the block or meander through your garden.
Consider investing in a gel mat, a heavy-duty floor mat made from polyurethane that cushions the hard floor and makes things easier on your joints when standing for long-periods of time. GelPro and Imprint both make such mats that retail in the fifty to one-hundred dollar range. They’re well worth the investment if you are standing in one place at the counter for hours on end — you won’t feel it nearly as much in your legs at the end of the day.
Before starting a kitchen processing session, feed yourself first. Make sure you eat a healthy meal and drink plenty of water. It’s easy to forget this step and later find yourself “testing” or snacking on those batches of shortbread as they come out of the oven. You want your muffin business to bring in cash, not add a muffin top!
Keep the cooking process fun. Play some music to sustain your energy. Try listing to podcasts or books on tape to make the processing time more interesting and less tedious. At times, you may find yourself feeling lonely or isolated as a one-person operation. Besides inviting “helpers” to participate, consider donning a headset phone and chatting with friends or family, if it’s not too distracting from the business at hand.
Step 5: Practice Proper Food Safety
Proper food safety procedures form the foundation of your business, ensuring the quality and safety of your product. Make our cottage food industry proud by proving that a fully licensed commercial kitchen isn’t a synonym for food safety; home-based operations can be as safe, if not safer. You wouldn’t poison your own family, so why would feeding the public be any different?
Having reviewed your state cottage food law, you’ll have noticed the requirements related to sanitation and food safety. It may be as simple as reading and practicing a basic checklist of proper procedures. Or there may be a specific requirement list and a mandatory on-site inspection. Don’t panic if your kitchen will be inspected; just make sure it is spotless and double-check any list of requirements. The morning of the inspection is not the time to do anything unusual, like unplugging the refrigerator to clean behind it. What if your refrigerator doesn’t readily start back up again or the temperature isn’t at the “safe” level on the thermometer? Don’t jeopardize your inspection. Have everything ready and operational the day before and avoid the stress.
Many states require some form of “certified food handler” license, similar to what employees in restaurants would have. ServSafe, operated through the National Restaurant Association, offers an annual online food handler certificate for a nominal fee that meets many state’s requirements. ServSafe takes about an hour to complete and covers five areas: basic food safety; personal hygiene; cross-contamination and allergens; time and temperature; and cleaning and sanitation.
Keep kids out at all times when you cook or bake for the business. Establish firm boundaries in your family between when you are “working” and when things are in “home mode” and the kitchen space goes back to family space. If your children are still young, this may require you to work late at night or early in the morning when they’re still sleeping. You could also make arrangements for childcare so you can focus in the kitchen.
Keep the pets, and insects, out of your kitchen. Check your specific state regulations, as some states do not allow any pets in the home at all if you are operating a cottage food business. While most of us already do this anyway, make sure all window and door screens remain in good repair and without any tears to prevent all insects from entering your kitchen workspace.
If using a private well, make sure you annually test your water for coliform bacteria and, possibly, for other chemical contaminants if you live in an area with chemical agriculture.
Keeping records of your product batches is essential. You can do this by hand in a simple notebook where you record the date, what and how much you made and what ingredients you used. If any issue ever came up regarding your food handling procedures, you will have these logs to reference. We empathize: record-keeping sounds dull and detailed. But records that document the proper procedures you took will show that you employed the highest standards possible should any question arise. Most cottage food producers are exempt from the sort of third-party inspections and regulations large food producers must adhere to. However, remember you’re still responsible for every last item you make. A written log indicates you take this role seriously.
Don’t agonize, organize. A place for everything and everything in its place makes an efficient and safe kitchen.