The novel coronavirus pandemic is known to have created adversity, especially on employment in certain business sectors. It is thought that Ben Franklin coined the phrase “out of adversity comes opportunity” and this certainly holds true for many people who became unemployed. One such opportunity identified was turning the passion for cooking into a business. This is a good thing.
Some of these people were already providing catering services but as things changed, they were forced to close their establishments. However, instead of totally going out of business, they downsized and operated from their home kitchen. Other unemployed individuals decided to “tun dem han’ mek fashion” in order to survive. The spirit of these people must be acknowledged, particularly since 80 per cent of jobs in Jamaica are said to be attributed to the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
In the context of such a situation, how is food safety assured? Food safety assurance is the responsibility of the food business operator (FBO). Part of that responsibility includes meeting all legal and regulatory requirements concerning the preparation and sale of food. In the strictest sense of the Public Health (Food Handling) Regulations, 1998, the use of a home kitchen as a food-handling establishment is illegal. However, the rule of flexibility can be and is applied.
Flexibility is applied by considering the size of the operation and its complexity. It requires a clear separation between the home kitchen and the one used for the food-handling establishment. The area of the home that is being used as the food-handling establishment must have its own entrance and kept in a manner according to the Public Health (Food Handling) Regulations, 1998. This includes being licensed to operate a food-handling establishment and have that establishment available to an inspector. The inspector will then carry out an inspection of the premises to determine if the area is clean and sanitary.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that since a private residence cannot be classified as a facility, home-based food businesses are not required to be registered with them. However, they do include the cautionary statement that these business operators need to be aware of any regulations that are applicable to their situation and comply with them. Therefore, they too place the responsibility of food safety on the shoulders of the FBOs.
This means that home-based FBOs must do their part to ensure that they do not jeopardise their livelihood; meaning, they must align their businesses with all applicable legal and regulatory requirements. Home-based food operators include those who cook at home but transport the food to the location/site where the food is sold. Yes, even those who sell from the back of their car or provide food and beverages for coffee break for meeting at various companies should comply.
As opportunities are created, in spite of various circumstances, the livelihood of MSMEs must be protected. Food safety is the responsibility of the food business operator, so get on-board!