legal

The rise of home food businesses

This is the first blog I have had chance to write since the UK was placed into Covid-19 lockdown (100 days ago today!) so I would like to start by saying that I hope you and your families are well whether you are working as normal or have found that work is now busier/quieter than usual or you have had to adapt to working whilst simultaneously home schooling the kids.

One observation that became apparent when we entered the strange world of lockdown was a return of community spirit.  It was admirable to see people helping neighbours with grocery shopping and even putting their own home economic skills into good use making food accessible and available to those who were self-isolating or shielding.  It was also understandable why those on furlough or who have lost most of their income, would seek alternative ways to make money by using their cooking/baking skills whilst staying at home. 

However, as all existing food business owners I’m sure will agree, starting-up a food production business is no easy task and brings with it huge responsibilities.  It’s not just as simple as make food and sell it – there are a raft of legal obligations and standards in place to ensure products are safe to consume, are made following strict hygiene regulations and that product information is presented to a standard that does not put people’s health at risk. 

First and foremost, if you wish to start preparing, cooking, storing, handling, distributing, supplying or selling food – you must be registered as a food business operator with your local authority. This is free to do, and the registration cannot be refused.

It is an offence to operate a food business without being registered – and this includes voluntary, charitable, people operating at home and via the internet as well as those on the high street.  It doesn’t exclude people who are operating from home even if the food is supplied for free.  If you are simply baking a couple of times a year for the school fete then this wouldn’t require registration but producing a tray bake once a month for a café for example, would.

Once registered, you may be inspected and given a food hygiene rating, so it’s important to ensure you have all the right procedures and record keeping in place from the start.  If you are new to the food industry it is most likely (and highly advisable) that you will require appropriate training/mentoring/experts to help you with the following start-up checklist:

  • Does the design & construction of your food preparation area meet legal requirements?
  • Have you invested in the right equipment?
  • Are you aware of the main food law requirements?
  • Do you keep written records of all the food ingredients you are buying or being supplied with?
  • Have you put food safety management procedures in place and are the records kept up to date?
  • Do you understand the principles of good food hygiene?
  • Have you considered health & safety arrangements?
  • Have you registered as self-employed?
  • Are you keeping records of all your business income and expenses?
  • Do you describe/label food and drink accurately and in compliance with legislation?
  • Are you aware of all the allergens in your products, including those present in your home for domestic use and are they communicated properly?
  • Is the packaging you are using suitable for food contact?
  • Do you have public liability and product liability insurances?
  • Do you need to apply for a licence to sell alcohol or hot food between 11pm and 5am?

The Food Standards Agency has developed this useful ‘Safer food better business’ pack specifically for small catering businesses.

I also asked some fellow North West food & drink businesses who have been there and done all the above to share their top tips for start-ups:

Do your research and then check, check and check again. Then get someone qualified to check it too! Don’t just copy existing similar products on the shelf as its 99% certain NOT to be suitable to copy especially where weights and measures and the Estimate symbol are concerned.” The Nowt Poncy Food Company Ltd, @nowtponcy


My tip is the Safer Foods Better Business website. It’s got all the documents and paperwork you need, and plenty of guidance. Make sure you register with the local authority, and use them for advice and guidance as well as inspection, they are there to help as well.” The Sunflower Kitchen, @TheSunflowerKi1


Ensure your labels are up to date with the necessary information and have the correct allergen advice.”  Farm Yard Ales, @farmyardales


Whilst this article aims to point out the main things for you to consider when starting a food business, the good news is that there is absolutely no reason why properly-registered people should not sell food they have prepared at home – it can be done safely!

With over two decades of food industry experience, Anne founded the award-winning AB FOOD NUTRITION to work closely with businesses of all sizes ensuring they can fully inform consumers about the ingredients, allergens and nutrition information legally, whilst also enabling them to make healthier dietary choices.  Contact Anne for further information about our nutrition and labelling services.

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A vegan and allergen quandary

Imagine this: It’s a Saturday morning and I’ve lovingly made a nutritious breakfast of scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast for my daughter before she heads off out to play in a footy match.  I then put away and clean up everything ready for my two friends Amanda and Tania, who are joining me for brunch.  Now, my friend Amanda is vegan and so I have opted to make us all a vegan fry-up of hash browns, mushrooms, tomatoes, scrambled tofu and baked beans.

I then remember that Tania has severe egg and milk allergies so although she can still enjoy my vegan fry-up – how do I know that absolutely all traces of egg and milk have been removed from my kitchen since I made my daughters scrambled egg this morning?? The answer is…I don’t!

 

 

And there you have it! Now, as the Vegan Society explains “Products suitable for vegans may not be suitable for people with allergies. Vegans avoid exploitation of non-human animals, whereas people with allergies need products that do not contain the allergens that affect them. These are separate issues.”

Just in the same way that companies assess whether their products may contain major allergens I had to decide whether I thought Tania would be safe eating my vegan fry-up in the same kitchen where I had previously made scrambled eggs.  If there is a risk, the label carries a ‘may also contain’ warning.

So why did M&S come under so much fire with the launch of their new plant kitchen range?

The Vegan Society states it is “not against foods labelled as vegan also carrying a ‘may contain warning about animal allergens”, and an M&S spokesperson quite rightly pointed out that “vegan products may not be suitable for people with severe allergies because allergens may be present in the environment in which they are made.  This is clearly flagged on the packaging as a steer to those who need it.”  However, many disagree and feel that it is misleading to state something is vegan whilst also stating that it may contain small amounts of dairy products.

The food industry must adhere to strict rules concerning allergen labelling, which is heavily regulated, yet the term ‘vegan’ is only used by industry voluntarily so, how can it be used accurately when no legal definition exists?  (Note: the EU Commission announced it would begin the process to establish a legal definition this year, but this will not automatically apply to the UK post-Brexit).  In the meantime, there needs to be more education for consumers to understand that “vegan” does not automatically mean “free from” and as always, it pays to read the label every time!

AB Food Nutrition works with manufacturers and caterers to provide allergen information to consumers on labels, menus and websites. We can work with you to implement procedures for updating and signing off allergen information. Contact Anne for further information about our cost-effective consultancy services.

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