Before you start a cottage food operation, you may have to get your home kitchen inspected. Inspections are a requirement for all commercial kitchens, but many cottage food laws do not require home kitchens to get them. However, if your kitchen needs to get inspected, there are a few things you should know in advance.
Take It Easy
First of all, remember that a home kitchen will not be held to the same standards as a commercial kitchen. In fact, it is impossible for most residential kitchens to adhere to all of the rules that were made for commercial facilities.
Most home kitchen inspections will not be extremely detailed and thorough, and you don’t need to get too concerned about it. I often hear CFOs stressing out about making sure their kitchen is perfect before their inspection, and then they’re surprised when the inspector only spends 5 minutes looking things over.
Your inspection will probably last longer than 5 minutes, but it’s not usually very difficult to pass. Make sure you read your state’s rules and know if there are any items the inspector will likely be looking for. It’s also a good idea to ask the health department for an inspection list (if they have one).
Also, inspections are often highly dependent on the inspector. One inspector in a county might check under the sinks to look for evidence of insects/rodents, and another inspector in the same county might not even ask about pests. It’s good to prepare as best as you can, but unfortunately, you probably won’t be able to know about everything you need to prepare for until the inspector arrives at your door.
Things To Check
Although there isn’t any consistency between states, counties, or even inspectors, there are a few general things that you should be aware of:
Obviously, you should always be working in a clean environment, but make sure you check less noticeable places. For instance, food particles can get lodged into crevices of appliances that you don’t frequently wash (like a standing mixer). Your inspector might not be that thorough, but it’s good to keep everything clean regardless.
Insect & Rodent Free
All states require kitchen areas to be free of bugs and rodents. Your inspector might not check for them, but it’s always good to look for signs of pests. If you’ve had issues recently (such as ants or flies), you should address those problems before starting your business.
Hot & Cold Water
Make sure you have hot and cold water running at both your kitchen sink and the nearest bathroom’s sink.
Some inspectors will ask you to show your process for sanitizing equipment and other surfaces. The most basic process is to dilute one tablespoon of chlorine bleach in one gallon of water and use that to sanitize everything, but your area might have specific requirements. Some dishwashers have sanitization options, and that may be sufficient for most of your equipment.
Some states do not allow CFOs to use reusable dish towels. Instead, you need to use single-use paper towels and you may need to show the inspector that they are readily available at the kitchen and bathroom sinks.
If you use ingredients that need to be kept in the fridge (like milk or eggs), then your refrigerator needs to be kept below a specific temperature (usually 41 degrees). Your inspector might check the temperature, and they might ask you to get a thermometer to be kept in the fridge at all times.
Ingredients Off The Floor
Make sure the storage areas for ingredients and finished products are at least six inches off the floor. If you run out of shelf space, you might be able to put ingredients on the floor in sealed storage bins.
Separate Ingredients / Equipment
Some states require the ingredients and/or equipment that you use for your business to be kept separate from those intended for personal use. Usually this means allocating separate cupboards, drawers, and/or shelves to the business (including a separate shelf in your refrigerator, if necessary).
Focus On Safety
Generally speaking, the inspector’s job is to make sure you are making your kitchen environment (and ultimately your products) as safe as possible. As long as you do a little preparation, know food safety basics, and have a clean, fully-functioning kitchen, you should pass your inspection without any problems.