Have you heard of cottage food licensing, or better known as CFO (cottage food operation)? What it means, with a food handler’s license, a seller can prepare and/or package to-be-sold foods in their own kitchen, rather than in a commercial kitchen.
Here’s the official link explaining more:
Now, larger grocers such as Whole Foods do not allow CFO foods in their stores. But smaller stores and co-ops have been known to allow such prepared foods in their stores. Other common areas and the initial intended use of this law is for outdoor markets. Basically, a law was passed allowing smaller companies to make/prepare foods in their homes rather then renting/owning a commercial kitchen.
So, for the gluten-free consumer, do you feel safe allowing your advertised gluten-free product to be prepared via a CFO?
From first hand experience I can tell you there are both benefits and downfalls to a gluten-free CFO produced food.
Before Olga and I opened our own dedicated gluten-free retail bakery facility, we sold our products to grocery stores through distribution. To do this Olga and I would rent a commissary kitchen. A Commissary kitchen is simply a shared kitchen food manufacturers rent on an hourly/daily basis and share with other manufacturers while all using the same equipment. In our situation, we we’re the only gluten-free company in the kitchen. Fortunately for us though, we had our own allocated oven in the kitchen. But, each time we went into the kitchen to bake we would spend hours literally prepping the entire kitchen to prevent cross contamination.
Looking back on the situation, realistically, it may have been safer (in reference to cross contamination) to have baked all our products in our home kitchen. Logistically it would have never worked, but in our particular home, everything is gluten free. So it brings up a good question, would a CFO in fact be a safer setting for gluten-free goods?
It sounds tempting.
PROS to a CFO:
- Single food preparer (possibly eliminates cross contamination)
- Allocated ingredients (possibly eliminates cross contamination)
- Allocated equipment (possibly eliminates cross contamination)
A CFO kitchen in a house that is already a dedicated gluten-free home could be a great setting. The food in a way is more protected from cross contamination than in a shared commissary kitchen. But unfortunately most families are not dedicated gluten free. And even if they are, they must treat their home as if it was a working commercial kitchen, meaning all guests to the home must also be gluten-free. That adds a lot to the equation. For example, in our bakery all employees who are not gluten-free must eat their lunch outside.
Additionally, there are less people to hold others accountable in a CFO kitchen rather than a working kitchen. Take a commissary kitchen for example. The renter is required to completely clean up after they are done with their time in the shared kitchen, otherwise they are fined. This helps reduce cross contamination. But, most shared kitchens are just that, a kitchen with shared equipment that are impossible to fully clean (ovens, mixers, etc, trays, etc.)
Of course a dedicated gluten-free bakery or facility like ours is the ideal situation and truthfully should be the standard. But I understand right now that’s not always an option, so it’s important to address all other outlets of gluten-free goods.
Bottom line, as with all gluten-free foods, ask how and where it is prepared, and if made in a CFO, be sure to ask all the same questions that you would when questioning a larger food manufacturer.
Hope this makes you think a little bit more the next time you come across a gluten-free good and how it’s prepared 🙂