Are you interested in increasing your revenue stream by adding value to the products that you grow by manufacturing jams and jellies, or by selling additional products such as breads at farmers’ markets? Do you have a favorite recipe for a food product that family and friends encourage you to sell to the public? If so, Maine has certain regulations and guidelines that you must follow in order to produce your food under sanitary conditions and protect the health and wellbeing of your potential customer. The Maine Food Code, available from the Maine Department of Agriculture details these guidelines.
First you will need to evaluate your water source, which must be a “safe source that is used, transported and dispensed in a sanitary manner.” If your water source is municipal, nothing further is required. If your water source is private, i.e., it is from ground water or surface water, then it must be inspected and tested annually. The Department of Health and Human Services has several Certified Drinking Water Laboratories (Table A) that can test your water supply. If your water is from surface water (such as a lake or pond), it may require additional treatment and evaluation, as potential for run-off contaminants exists.
Next your sewage and wastewater disposal system will be evaluated. Sewage and wastewater must be disposed of in a sanitary manner. If your sewage disposal is a municipal system, no further work is required. If your disposal is private, i.e., a septic tank and leach field, then you must meet local code enforcement guidelines, which usually involves a visit from your local code enforcement officer and a letter verifying that your sanitary disposal facility is of adequate capacity to handle the waste from your food processing.
A potentially hazardous food, such as chicken pies or pesto, must be produced in a kitchen or facility separate from the home and requires a Commercial Food Processor License. While constructing such a facility might not be economically feasible for you now, several shared-use kitchens are being developed in Maine, including in Belfast, Bucksport, Saco, Farmington, Eastport and Unity.
If you want to sell your product only at a farmers’ market, then a Mobile Food Vendor’s License may be the only license needed. To determine which license you require, contact the Maine Department of Agriculture, Division of Quality Assurance and Regulation, 28 State House Station, Deering Bldg., AMHI Complex, Augusta, ME 04333-0028 (Hal Prince, Director, 207-287-2161).
Table A: Department of Health & Human Services Certified Drinking Water Laboratories
- A & L Laboratory, Auburn, 784-5354
- Acheron Environmental Laboratories, Newport, 368-5786
- Katahdin Analytical Services, West Rockport, 236-8428
- Maine Environmental Laboratory, Yarmouth, 846-2400
- MicMac Environmental Laboratory, Presque Isle, 764-7219
- Nelson Analytical Testing Laboratory, Springvale, 324-2074
- Northeast Laboratory, Waterville, 873-7711
- Northern Maine Water Testing Service, Caribou, 492-2460
- State of Maine, Health & Environmental, Augusta, 287-2727
- Wright–Pierce Engineers, Topsham, 725-8721
Bushway offers testing that evaluates certain criteria in your product: pH for pickled foods and salsa, water activity for baked and canned foods, titratable acidity for vinegars, brix for jams, jellies and syrups, and water phase salt for smoked seafood. These are all to determine if your food product falls under proper guidelines for food safety or Standards of Identity for the FDA. If the food does not meet these guidelines, Bushway can suggest improvements. He is located at 5735 Hitchner Hall in Orono, 207-581-1629, or [email protected].
Dr. Beth Calder, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Food Science Specialist, may be contacted at [email protected], 207-581-2791. She has developed fact sheets and “frequently asked questions” sheets to help in this process. If you are producing an acidified food, a food in which you add an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice, the food must be tested to ensure that the equilibrium pH is below 4.6 in order to reduce the potential for Clostridium botulinum growth and botulism toxin production. Low acid foods – foods with a pH above 4.6, such as canned green beans – must be processed in a commercial facility.
Once you have ensured that you have a safe water source, adequate sewage disposal, and your product and process have been reviewed by Bushway, you are ready to have your kitchen facility inspected. The state needs to determine that your kitchen construction and design assure “production of a wholesome, uncontaminated product” when food is prepared there.
To ensure that your food product does not become contaminated with bacteria, the food contact surfaces of all equipment and utensils need to be sanitized with heat or such chemicals as bleach or iodine. Your kitchen will need a two-bay sink made of corrosion resistant material in or adjacent to the food preparation area. Sanitizing is accomplished by immersion for a minimum of 30 seconds at 170 degrees F., or 60 seconds immersion in a minimum 75 degree F. water bath of 50 ppm of chlorine. A commercial- grade dishwasher that uses either heat or chemicals for sanitizing may also be used.
All windows and doors of your kitchen should have screens. The floor should be smooth, clean and sanitary. Walls and ceilings should be in good repair and easily cleanable. Counters and food contact surfaces should be made of a non-absorbent, corrosion-resistant material such as stainless steel, Formica, slate, or other chip-resistant, non-pitted surfaces. Surfaces such as wood and fiberboard are not acceptable.
The kitchen must be equipped with an adequate supply of hot and cold water. A hot water temperature of 120 degrees is necessary to properly clean grease from cooking utensils. The toilet facility should be sanitary, and when you are constructing new facilities, the door cannot open directly into the food preparation area. Trash and compost containers must be covered, fly-tight, and metal or plastic. No animals, birds or uncontrolled children should be present in the kitchen. The state prohibits tobacco use during food processing.
The state inspector will check to see that you can adequately protect your food product and the ingredients used to prepare them from bacterial growth. Your refrigerator must be able to maintain a temperature of 45 degrees F. or below, and your freezer must be able to maintain a temperature of 0 degrees F. or below. The refrigerator and freezer should each be equipped with an easily readable thermometer, which can be purchased at a local hardware store. Counters must be sanitized between each use, usually with a spray bottle containing a solution of 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water. The spray bottle should be labeled clearly as a sanitizer or bleach so that it is not mistaken for water and used in food preparation.
All food products that are stored should be wrapped or covered. Potentially hazardous foods such as meat and seafood should be stored separately from vegetables and in a tray so that they cannot drip on other ingredients. If you are using glass containers, only new glass containers or home glass containers designed for reuse (e.g., Ball canning jars with screw top lids – not with wire lids) shall be used for packaging foods. Reusable containers must be sanitized before reuse, and seals shall not be reused. Home canned foods that require pressure cooking for sealing may not be sold.
If your product is to be sold to stores, sold wholesale for further distribution, or retailed by public marketing, each individual item needs to have a label. The FDA details this information at www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/flg-1.html. Basically, the label shall state the name of the product, the net weight of your food or product (usually measured in ounces and grams), ingredients (listed by weight of ingredients in descending order), potential allergens in your food product, and the name and address of the manufacturer or distributor. The eight most common food allergens that require an allergen statement are milk, eggs, fish, wheat, crustacean shellfish such as lobster or crab, tree nuts, peanuts and soybeans.
Food producers who sell directly to the consumer and make no more than $50,000 per year are exempt from adding a nutrition label. Several laboratories in Maine analyze foods for nutrient labeling. (Table B)
In addition to labeling for consumer information, food products should be labeled in order to provide tractability in case of a need to withdraw contaminated product from the market. Each product should be coded and production records kept that reflect the date of manufacture, product name, product size, units produced, pH and product code.
The specialty food business is a rapidly expanding market, and producing value-added products is an exciting venture. Jonathan King and Jim Stott began marketing their specialty foods at farmers’ markets in 1991 and built a very successful business, Stonewall Kitchen, with products that are marketed worldwide now. Even if you don’t wish to produce foods at this scale, the basics of manufacturing food products under sanitary conditions while protecting the health and wellbeing of your potential customer remain the same. The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association offers workshops throughout the year on Licensing the Home Food Processor Kitchen, and I encourage you to contact me if you are interested in attending one of our workshops.