Shared Inspected Kitchens
Welcome to the world of food processing and shared inspected kitchens.
The Eastern Ontario Agri-Food Network worked with the City of Cornwall, the United Counties of Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry, and the United Counties of Prescott-Russell to survey and understand the potential need of shared inspected kitchens.
In accordance with Ontario’s food safety regulations, farm produce can be sold by farmers and resellers to the public without further regulatory inspection. But prepared foods can only be sold to the public if handled, processed, packaged, and stored in an inspected and approved food premise or kitchen, except when prepared by a farmers’ market vendor, and a few other exceptions.
For the purpose of this project, prepared foods include foods, meals, and beverages that are processed, mixed, cooked, preserved, baked, packaged for sale to the public including retailers and restaurants. We are excluding from this survey butchered and processed meats, dairy products, and eggs that all have their own regulations and requirements.
A small producer of prepared foods often operates in small volumes in their home kitchen and sells at farmers markets as allowed by the regulatory exemptions. In order to grow their business, a small producer would build or rent their own dedicated commercial inspected kitchen, either at home, on the farm, or in a commercial facility. This represents a significant capital investment and operating costs, and obliges the producer to scale up the production volume and market reach to operate a viable business.
In 2021, the Ontario government modified the Ontario food safety regulations to alleviate the regulatory requirements to produce low-risk foods. With this change, some small food producers may opt to have their family kitchen or some other lower-cost facility inspected for low-risk food production.
There remains a cost and regulatory barrier for small food producers trying to sell to the public beyond the exemption for farmers’ market vendors. The solution could be the creation of shared inspected kitchens where small producers could rent space and capacity by the hour or by the day in order to process, package, and store their ingredients and products.
In the summer of 2021, the EOAN conducted a survey to understand the situation and needs of small food producers with respect to prepared foods, inspected kitchens in general, and potentially shared inspected kitchens.
Upon analysing the results of the survey, we concluded that there is not strong demand for shared inspected kitchens in the region. This can be partially explained by the fact that, given the absence of shared inspected kitchens in the past, many food producers have already established their own inspected kitchens. Secondly in 2020, the Ontario government revised the food safety regulations to ease the requirements for inspected kitchens for low-risk food production. Thirdly, despite the general talk about the need for shared inspected kitchens, many uninspected food producers are not prepared to scale up beyond their sales at farmers' markets and actually pay for the use of a shared kitchen.
Consequently, the EOAN is not pursuing this subject any further.
Nevertheless, the responses to the survey highlighted two other needs that we are pursuing. Some respondents highlighted the need for skilled workers in the agri-food sector. The EOAN is planning a winter program of skills training for agri-food entrepreneurs and is engaging with training organizations and the Eastern Ontario Training Board to examine strategies for skills and HR development.
Secondly, the survey identified the need for assistance in nutritional labelling. The EOAN will consider reviving a service that it provided in past years to produce nutritional labels for its members.
This project is developed by the Eastern Ontario Agri-Food Network in collaboration with and with funding from its municipal partners.