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Australia Starting a Home-based Food Business, step by step

Australia Cottage Food Laws, Regulations and Facts

Although, in Australia, selling food prepared in a home kitchen is always illegal unless the kitchen has been inspected and approved by your local council, the task is not as impossible as it sounds. Basically, if you want to operate a home-based food business, you need to meet food safety requirements as other food businesses, regardless of the size of your business or how often you sell food.

Definitions:

  • "Home-based food business" - means using your home (or someone else's home) to prepare food for sale. This includes preparing food for local markets or school canteens, catering for events, B&Bs, farm-stay or childcare businesses and online food sales from home.
  • "Food business" is any business or activity that involves the handling of any type of food for sale, or the sale of food in Australia.

Regulations

Australia has national (federal), provincial (state) and local (council) regulations. There are five food safety standards:
3.1.1 Interpretation and application
3.2.1 Food safety programs
3.2.2 Food safety practices and general requirements
3.2.3 Food premises and equipment
3.3.1 Food safety programs for food service to vulnerable persons

Home-based businesses must comply with relevant parts of the Federal Food Standards Code, including:

Food safety officers can inspect home businesses to make sure these requirements are being met.

And now the good news: Charities, community groups and businesses operating from a private home or at temporary events are exempt from some of the requirements in the food safety standards. These groups and businesses can contact their local enforcement authority for further information. You can also inquire about this in steps 3 and 4 below.

Steps to starting your home-based food business

The process is not officially defined in Australia, so we've cobbled this together from all of the government sources and practical experience that we could. If you encounter anything different please let us know!

Step 1- Determine whether your food product is safe for sale

Two myths:

  1. I can make my own unique recipe and safely package it.
  2. I can make at home any food I see in the shops.

Neither is true. Food companies conduct many trials and lab tests, examining the properties of the food product, including bacterial counts, pH, water content, etc. to determine that each recipe, process and packaging yields a shelf-stable product that will be safe for a consumer to eat months later. At home, you do not have the ability to perform this type of testing. You MUST stick to recipes, equipment and procedures that have been tested. All of the recipes here have been tested (by universities and government labs).

Commercial food companies often have equipment that can reach temperatures and pressures that home equipment cannot. Or they have unique packaging equipment that makes the finished product shelf stable. The point is, producing a safe food product takes:

  1. A lab tested recipe and process
  2. The proper processing equipment (water bath canner, pressure canner , etc.)
  3. Following the steps precisely in a safe, clean setting

Some examples of foods that cannot be safely made and packaged at home include bottled pumpkin butter and most bottled dairy/egg products. Additional controls and procedures are required for potentially hazardous foods (those which require specific temperature, pH or water content) to remain safe to eat.

Step 2 - Verify your kitchen meets the design requirements

Your premises should be designed and fitted out to handle food safely and avoid contamination.

Make sure you have:

  • a layout and enough space for people to work without contaminating food (e.g. to keep raw and cooked foods separate and to keep waste away from food)
  • convenient hand wash basin/s with warm running water, soap and single-use towels - if you use this sink for other things (e.g. washing dishes or a laundry sink) you will need written approval from your local council
  • fridges that are big enough and powerful enough to keep food at 5oC or colder (and frozen food frozen hard)
  • enough storage to protect food and packaging
  • floors, walls and benches that can be easily cleaned
  • a supply of drinking-quality water and good light and ventilation
  • a system to safely store and dispose of waste.

Check with your local council for advice and to make sure you are set up correctly.

Step 3 - Check your state or territory's rules

Each state and territory has its own specific requirements and guidance. Be sure to check those applicable in your area:

Step 4- Apply at your local Council for a business license

Now that you've knocked out the regulatory, design and food issues that could make it impossible or impractical to have a home-based food business, you next need to apply for a business license before you start your business. You do this at your local council. Others report that as long as you are not selling high-risk foods, your council will generally approve your the operation. If you change your business's name, location or food activities you need to tell your local council before these changes are made.

Step 5 - Training: Food safety skills, knowledge, certification

It's not as much as it seems, but you obviously need to know how to prepare food safely in accordance with the law if you want to sell it!

  • everyone in your business who handles food must know how to prepare, store and package the food so it is safe to eat
  • you or someone in your business will likely need formal training e.g. a certified food safety supervisor. Check with your local council for more information about whether your business needs a designated, trained Food Safety Supervisor

Top food safety tips for home-based businesses:

Prevent contamination

  • protect food at all times during storage, processing, transport and display
  • thoroughly wash and dry hands before handling food: use warm running water and soap - scrub wrists, palms, backs of hands, between fingers and under nails, and then dry hands using single-use towels
  • do not handle food if you are ill
  • keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods - e.g. use different cutting boards, store raw food below ready-to-eat food
  • protect food from pets, children and visitors, sick people, waste, chemicals, pests and dirt

Cleaning and sanitising

  • keep the premises clear of rubbish, food waste, dirt and grease
  • keep food contact surfaces like benches, utensils and containers clean and sanitary
  • clean before you sanitise
  • sanitise using bleach, a commercial food-safe sanitiser or a dishwasher on longest hottest cycle

Food traceability

  • keep records of your ingredients and suppliers, and businesses you've sold to
  • if you are a food manufacturer, wholesale supplier or importer, have a written recall plan and follow it if a recall is needed

Safe food temperatures & processing

  • potentially hazardous foods (like those containing meat, egg and dairy) need to be kept cold (at 5oC or colder) or kept hot (at 60oC or hotter) during receipt, storage, display (or hot holding) and transport
  • prepare food quickly to minimise time out of the fridge (e.g. when making sandwiches)
  • cook food to safe temperatures (e.g. 75oC for poultry and minced meat)
  • cool cooked food quickly to store in the fridge (e.g. by dividing into smaller portions in the fridge) - within required timeframes
  • check temperatures with a food thermometer
  • know the critical limits for safety (e.g. acidity, water activity) for processes you use

Creating a food label

Food labelling requirements are set out in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.

The national food standards body (FSANZ) provides information to help consumers to read a food label and understand the food labelling requirements. They provide information on a range of topics, including:

Creating a food label

Label buster was created to help guide businesses on their labelling requirements.

Food labels may also require other components, including:

 

General Recommendations:

Beyond the requirements, common sense, good practices and reducing liability suggests you should do the following.

Testing of pH

​It's best to use a pH meter, properly calibrated on the day used. I use this one, which is reliable and inexpensive. And this pH meter is really good, but isn't always available.
Short-range paper pH test strips, commonly known as litmus paper, may be used instead, if the product normally has a pH of 4.0 or lower and the paper's range includes a pH of 4.6.

Record-keeping is suggested

Keep a written record of every batch of product made for sale, including:

  • ​Recipe, including procedures and ingredients
  • Amount canned and sold
  • Canning date
  • Sale dates and locations
  • Gross sales receipts
  • Results of any pH test

Sanitation

Although inspections are not required, you should consider doing the following:

  • ​Use clean equipment that has been effectively sanitized prior to use
  • Clean work surfaces and then sanitize with bleach water before and after use
  • Keep ingredients separate from other unprocessed foods
  • Keep household pets out of the work area
  • Keep walls and floors clean
  • Have adequate lighting
  • Keep window and door screens in good repair to keep insects out
  • Wash hands frequently while working
  • Consider annual testing of water if using a private well

Best Practices

  • Allergens: Most state home baking acts require an "ingredient statement" and/or an "allergen listing" on the label of the bakery item for sale; but if your state does not, you should anyway. The eight major food allergens are
    • milk,
    • eggs,
    • fish,
    • crustacean shellfish,
    • tree nuts,
    • peanuts,
    • wheat and
    • soybean.
  • Cross-allergenicity: There are also ingredients available, even flours, that can cause a cross-allergenicity. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology explains cross-allergenicity as an allergic reaction when proteins in one substance are similar to the proteins found in another substance. For example, consumption of lupine flour may trigger an allergic reaction to peanuts, and cricket flour may trigger an allergic reaction to shellfish. Again, providing such information might be a beneficial marketing tool and help keep potential consumers safe.
  • The 2 Hour/4 Hour Rule - Anyone wishing to make and sell refrigerated bakery items should remember to follow the "2 Hour/4 Hour Rule." This is a system that can be implemented when potentially hazardous foods are out of temperature control (temperatures greater than 45 degrees Fahrenheit) during preparation, serving or display for sale. The rule guidelines are as follows:
    • If a potentially hazardous food has been out of temperature control for 2 hours or less, then it may continue to be used or be placed back in the refrigerator.
    • If a potentially hazardous food has been out of temperature control for more than 2 hours but less than 4 hours, it needs to be used quickly or discarded.
    • If a potentially hazardous food has been out of temperature control for more than 4 hours, it must be discarded.

More resources:

Questions? Contact Information:

 Contact your local food enforcement authority

 


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