By J.D. Walker The Courier-Tribune, Asheboro, N.C.
Who hasn't heard the success stories and wondered, "Can I start my own business?" When that small business involves food, the temptation to get started is even stronger.
Buoyed on by compliments from friends and family, many an entrepreneur has gotten a start by selling jars of pickles or packages of dry mix, created in the home kitchen. Co-owners Jenny Fulton and Ashlee Furr have taken Kernersville-based Miss Jenny's Pickles from a home operation in 2010 to North Carolina Exporter of the Year in February.
Big Daddy's Marinade of Archdale sells in Piggly-Wiggly, Harris Teeter, Lowes Foods and Earth Fare groceries around the area as well as via the company's website at bigdaddycooks.com. Owner Eric Henderson parlayed his dad's recipe into a successful business. JP Burwell of Liberty is doing the same with his granddad's recipe in Pulley's barbecue sauce, available at Town and Country Meat Market in Greensboro, Musten & Crutchfield in Kernersville and Gracie's Veggie Box in Liberty. (Read more about Pulley's in the March issue of Thrive: Life in Our Town and Beyond).
So, you've got a good recipe. You've got a little local buzz. You start producing your own line of good eats. What could be easier?
It's not that easy. Anyone interested in starting a home-based food business needs to start at ncagr.gov/fooddrug/food/homebiz.htm. This is a state link that will give an idea of just how many considerations are needed before starting up production.
North Carolina has a number of restrictions on what can be produced in the home environment. The first is, if you have pets in the home, you can't produce commercially-sold food items there.
Then, there is the question of what kind of food you want to produce. The state breaks it down to low-risk and high-risk foods. Low-risk packaged foods are the only products allowed to be manufactured in home kitchens. These can include certain categories of baked goods, jams and jellies, candies, dried mixes, spices, certain sauces and liquids, pickles and acidified foods.
High-risk products include refrigerated or frozen products, low-acid canned foods, dairy products, seafood products and bottled water.
These must be made in a non-home-based commercial facility. If you are uncertain whether your product can be made at home, contact a food compliance officer at (919) 733-7366.
For public safety, other requirements include: -- No pets in the home at any time, even if only at night. -- Food prep surfaces must be smooth and easily cleanable. -- Easily accessible restroom and hand-washing facilities with hot and cold running water. -- Refrigerator(s) must have thermometers to monitor temperature. -- An acceptable sewer or septic system for waste. -- Shatter-proof or shielded kitchen light bulbs.
The N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (NCDA&CS), Food and Drug Protection Division helps home-based food businesses comply with food safety laws and produce safe products for sale. Complete information about home processing and the required application materials are available through the N.C. Home Processing website at nchomeprocessing.com. Questions about home processing can be emailed to [email protected]
More information on labeling requirements is available from N.C. State University's Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Science Extension Program. The extension program also provides pH and water activity testing services for certain categories of food products, including acidified foods such as pickles (pH testing), dressings/sauces (pH testing), and "moist" breads/cakes and some pies (water activity and pH).
Then, there can be local restrictions to consider. John Evans is the assistant community development director in Asheboro's Planning and Zoning Department. He said home-based businesses of any sort have to meet special requirements. The business can not be a hazard or nuisance to neighbors. There will be questions about occupancy and the type of water/sewer service needed for the business.
Evans said Asheboro does not allow retail sales out of a home business. The business can not be located in an accessory structure (shed or detached carport, for example). There can be no outside storage at the business location or signage, he said.
Evans said the city will also be concerned about parking requirements and fire codes.
"There are a number of concerns," Evans said. "But we are happy to talk with anyone interested in starting a home business about those concerns and to point them in the right direction for compliance."
If having a tasty product was the only concern, food store shelves would groan under the weight of the jars and packages. It takes more -- it takes a business plan and marketing goals.
Randolph Community College has classes available for how to operate a small business. Visit randolph.edu and click on the links for the Small Business Center. The NCDA&CS Marketing Division can provide additional help developing a business plan. The marketing division can help home processors build a web presence for their business through the NCDA&CS General Store, a directory of North Carolina agricultural goods and services.
For more information, visit the marketing division website at www.ncagr.gov/markets/agbizmarketing.htm.
For general questions on home-based food businesses, e-mail [email protected] You can also contact Kaye Snipes with the Food and Drug Protection Division home processing staff at (919) 608-9205 or [email protected]