The first steps to selling your food product

Judging by the number of food startups that continue to explode onto the UK's startup scene, creating your own edible wares is a dream that many entrepreneurs hold. Yet getting started with taking your products from home kitchen to the public can feel daunting, not least because of certification. It can feel like there's lots of red tape, but you don't need to have a professional kitchen or shell out thousands on pastry chef school to get selling your food. 

Gemma Lewis is the founder of Dark Matters, a Dorset-based business creating delicious and imaginative brownies, baked from her own kitchen and sold at market stalls all over the southwest. We asked her a few questions about how she got started.

What’s the first and most important certification you needed to sort out?

First and foremost you need to register your home as a food business as soon as possible, ideally before you've even started. Its tempting to leave doing this until you're properly up and running because it seems a bit scary and official, but its really important that you get this done well in advance so your council can get all the information needed to register you and open up the lines of communication. This is also great because nine times out of ten they're incredibly helpful to new foodie start-ups and can be a treasure trove of information!

What do you need to get certified if using your own kitchen?

Aside from being registered with your council, it’s important that you personally hold an up-to-date Level 2 Food Hygiene Certificate. You can do this short course online for as little as £12.50 and it will teach you the important key factors and responsibilities involved with running a food business. Once you pass you will receive a certificate, which ideally you will renew every 3-5 years.

Can you get started right away or do you need to wait to be inspected?

Once you've made contact with your council and have corresponded with a member of the Environmental Health team (usually by phone or email) they will tell you where you stand with regards to trading before inspection. Many home food businesses are deemed as 'low risk' (such as bakers and confectioners), so you will most likely be told you can start right away as long as they're happy that you have shown evidence that you know how to run a safe and hygienic kitchen. However with rules changing often between council to council, it’s better to double check with your environmental health contact.

What’s a bit of red tape that’s easy to miss?

Having a clear and up-to-date HACCP (Hazard analysis and critical control points) or Food Safety Management plan is important, and you will be asked to show evidence of this at your Environmental Health inspection. This management system helps food business operators look at how they handle food (from the moment the raw ingredients are bought right up until the point of sale) and introduces procedures to make sure the food produced is safe to eat.

The government's Food website is incredibly useful and I cannot praise it enough. It’s chock full of tools to help you get started, as well as guides for you to check you're as informed and up-to-date on food laws and legislation for your type of food business as you can be. Another important factor is the recent changes in Allergen labelling, which you are now required by law to clearly show or have easy access to information on the allergens contained in your products. Again this is all on the website so familiarise yourself with it (and bookmark it now!) because it'll become your best friend over the next few months!

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