A couple of years ago, we started our own food business. Like many people, we began from home to see if our idea would work. This ‘toe in water’ approach allowed us to test our offering with our target market, whilst continuing to work in another job. We needed the confidence that our idea could work at scale if it became a full-time business, so this seemed the only option. Sound familiar?
Whilst we had a dedicated area at home - separate to our domestic kitchen - in which to prep, pack and store everything, we quickly realised dedicated space would be essential. Not just to cope with our growth and make the business prosper, but also to maintain the highest standards of health and safety.
The search for suitable commercial space in which to operate wasn’t easy. Initially we enquired about kitchen space in existing premises that wasn't already fully-utilised. Nothing really seemed to fit the bill, so it was time to bite-the-bullet and find our own dedicated premises. Our initial searches were fruitless: the availability in Brighton & Hove of high-quality premises that would be suitable to operate a food business seemed very limited - we widened our search to Sussex as a whole, but still nothing suitable emerged. Perhaps we hadn’t appreciated how long our "wish-list" of criteria actually was! Many landlords wouldn't permit the type of use we wanted - and applying for a change of use seemed complex; many spaces were too large (or small); some were poorly-located or had limited vehicle access; many were simply too expensive to rent or convert.
Finally, we found an industrial unit at Hove Enterprise Centre - located just by Hove Lagoon - which ticked most of the boxes. There was just the small matter of converting what had been a music studio into something that suited the needs of our fledgling food business. After a few weeks’ of hard graft, we’d created our purpose-built prep kitchen - complete with staff welfare area, warehouse and office space - and we acquired our first commercial catering equipment. At last, we were ready to move our business to its next phase of growth!
The health and safety considerations of running a food business from home
As anyone running a food business knows, there are many legal, health and safety requirements to consider when preparing food for others from your home. This applies whether you're preparing food on a voluntary basis (e.g. for charities, schools) or for sale, either direct to the final consumer (e.g. group events like weddings or birthdays, finish-at-home services, home delivery, farmers’ markets) or selling to other food businesses (e.g. cafés, restaurants, butchers).
We received some very helpful advice from our local Environmental Health Officer when we registered our business - he said move to a commercial premises as soon as possible, and don't run a food business from a domestic setting. Quite simply, domestic kitchens are not properly equipped, so the risk of things going wrong (from a health and safety perspective) is greater - not something any business needs, especially not a new one trying to develop its reputation and generate positive customer reviews!
The 10 most common problems running a food business from a domestic kitchen:
Our helpful local Environmental Health Officer kindly put together this checklist of the 10 most common problems running a food business from a domestic kitchen:
Decorative finishes which are difficult to clean and disinfect e.g. bare wood surfaces, decorative tiling, kitchen units/handles, artex ceilings etc.
Non-commercial floor coverings which might be unhygienic, difficult to clean and disinfect - and may cause nasty slips and trips if they become wet due to spills.
Limited space and worktops so that “cross-contamination” (the spread of harmful bacteria) becomes difficult to prevent.
Access to the kitchen by children, pets, or other people, which can make maintaining good hygiene difficult: germs can build up on surfaces like door handles and switches which can be transferred to hands - and separating family use of the kitchen from business use can be very awkward but is essential for good food hygiene.
No access to a separate wash basin dedicated to hand-washing only.
Domestic quality equipment which is not up to the standard needed for commercial use - plus the risk of cross-contamination using domestic equipment for commercial use.
Insufficient storage or refrigeration space for large volumes of food which can increase the risk of food poisoning outbreaks: domestic fridges are not designed to cope with the large amounts of food prepared in a catering scenario, plus there is the need to store raw and cooked foods separately.
Inadequate air-conditioning which means the the kitchen temperature can be too high when food is being prepared - plus a lack of ventilation can lead to condensation, mould growth, and damage to home decoration.
Problems with keeping the kitchen free of flies, ants, and other sources of pest contamination.
A toilet or bathroom which opens directly into (or is too close to) the kitchen.
Additional considerations running a food business from home
In addition to the healthy and safety considerations, here are some other considerations when running a home-based food business:
Is the business registered?
Your home may have to be registered with the Council as a food business. This can be a legal requirement and you can be prosecuted if you do not register before starting.
Do you have planning permission?
Depending on the type and amount of food you prepare, you may need planning permission to run a business from home.
Do you need permission from your landlord or mortgage provider?
If you're a tenant, is it legal to run your business from home? Do you need to check with your landlord what permissions are needed? Even when you own your own home, you may need to get permission from your mortgage provider to run your food business.
Do you need to pay business rates?
You may have to pay increased rates if you use part of your property for a business.
Are you properly insured?
Depending on the type and amount of food you prepare, you may need to inform your home insurance provider to ensure you're covered for business use. Also, for the type of food business you’re running, are there any increased risks you need to discuss with your insurer e.g. fire, potential damage to to decoration?
Would you pass a food safety inspection?
You'll be liable to regular food safety inspections by officers from the Council's environmental health service, and you may face legal action or even be shut down if you're found to be breaking food hygiene laws. Would your home pass an inspection?
What are your customers' requirements for the food you're selling?
It's fair to assume your customers think their food is being prepared in a professional and hygienic environment. Are you meeting your customers' expectations, and is it contractual to be using a non-home environment for food preparation?
Flexible options for growing food businesses
As we discussed earlier, even if you have the means and intention to set up your own commercial premises, the reality of doing so can be another matter in terms of finding the right location at the right price - especially if you're still in the early stages of proving your business concept and making some money.
The Sussex Prep Kitchen has a flexible range of facilities and hire options that can be useful to all types and sizes of food businesses. Whether you’re still at the planning stage, a start-up or early-stage business, or a more established operator who is outgrowing its existing space - we're here to help you.
Firstly, our purpose-built commercial prep kitchen can help you eliminate the potential risks of running a home-based food business - features include:
Dedicated, enclosed prep space providing controlled access to people involved in food handling and preparation, which helps you reduce food hygiene risks.
Plenty of workspace which helps avoid potential cross-contamination.
Polyflor hygienic and slip-resistant flooring, stainless steel workbenches and smooth plastic wall cladding - which are all easy to clean and disinfect.
Dedicated stainless steel sinks for food prep and pot washing, both with overhead rinse taps - easy to clean and disinfect.
Dedicated basin for handwashing, with automatic 'no-touch' dispensers for antibacterial hand soap and sanitiser - helps avoid potential cross-contamination.
Commercial double door stainless steel refrigerator offering 1,300 litres of frozen storage space - allows proper storage and temperature control of all food types, plus allows you to keep raw and cooked foods stored separately and at different temperatures.
5kw cooling/heating air-conditioning system - maintains a cool kitchen temperature during food preparation (can also be set at a higher temperature if you need to prove dough or maintains a higher kitchen temperature).
Electric fly killer - keeping the prep kitchen free of flies and other types of pest contamination.
Separate to our prep kitchen, we also offer other useful facilities for growing food businesses, including:
Commercial freezers providing 1,000+ litres of dedicated frozen storage space, available to hire short or long term, and easily accessible 7 days a week.
Staff welfare, WC/changing area located away from the prep kitchen - you and your staff can change into clean kitchen clothing and take breaks away from the food preparation area.
Warehouse/packing area with plenty of space to unload/load deliveries and customer orders. Also features a roller-shutter door and external vehicle ramp for qick and easy access.
Warehouse racking secure storage space, available to hire short or long term, and easily accessible 7 days a week.
Electric van hire with a fully-insured driver to help you to transport food, drink, packaging and equipment. With a generous load space of 3 cubic metres and a range of 120 miles on a single battery charge.
A range of 46 litre Thermobox insulated food boxes with integrated cooling plates, to keep your food frozen/chilled in transit.
To get in touch about utilising any of our facilties, please contact us on (07496) 852133 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other useful resources:
This section of the Food Standards Agency website provides lots of practical information and advice if you’re thinking about running a food business from home, or if you already are.
The Government also has a downloadable pack to help businesses comply with food safety requirements called “Safer Food Better Business”.