How to get a clean bill of “health” for your food business

Carefully following the guidelines for food safety and sanitation are well worth a new business owners time and attention.

The CDC estimates that each year, roughly one in six Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. Anyone in a food business has to be vigilant about their practices to simultaneously protect the public, and protect themselves from lawsuits. So whether you want to sell a product under the Cottage Food Law at the local farmer’s market or open a restaurant, it is to your advantage find out about and be ready to comply with the Michigan Food Code.

The MSU Product Center has Innovation Counselors throughout the state who can work confidentially with you, one on one, to help you get prepared for a discussion with your food safety inspector. The county environmental health department (found under the health department on your county’s website) is responsible for the licensure and auditing of food facilities (restaurants, etc.) that sell or serve food to the public. They are responsible for everything from whether a farmer’s produce is cut up to the cleanliness and set up of a kitchen.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) inspects grocery stores, food processing facilities, and wholesalers. There are different rules and regulations for farmer’s markets, farmers, cottage food businesses, food retailers, restaurants, and wholesalers, but they are all subject to standards for food sanitation and safety.

Here are the most common violations found in restaurant inspections, for example:

            - Using a dishwasher that doesn’t sanitize (i.e., a residential model)

            - Not having a 3 compartment sink

            - Not having the correct sanitizer test strips on hand

            - Handwashing sinks not conveniently located for customers; or not having soap or a means to dry hands

            - Barehanded contact with ready to eat foods

            - Potentially hazardous foods not under temperature control

            - Pesticides used which are not labeled for use in a food establishment

Violaters can be written up (with the expectation that the violation will be corrected within a certain time frame), fined or even closed down for not complying. Check out the MDARD website under food and dairy safety for more information, or contact the MSU Product Center.

Product Center Counselors can also assist new businesses with concept development, business planning, marketing, packaging, labeling and much more. The MSU Product Center, in partnership with Michigan State University Extension, provides business counseling strategies that will help Michigan entrepreneurs commercialize high-value, consumer–responsive food, value-added agriculture, and natural resource products. For more information, visit the MSU Product Center website or call 517-432-8750.

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