Monday, December 14, 2009

Artisan food processing

The opportunity for entrepreneurship in local and regional foods surpasses anything I've seen in my 35+ year career as a working entrepreneur. It's like software, only sustainable.

In the world of local and regional foods there is a wildly expanding demand and an impossibly small capacity to supply this demand. The supply side - the people who grow and process these local foods - need help to get to a scale that is sufficient to begin meeting this demand.

It's a big subject with serious economic development implications for rural and urban areas worldwide.

My goal is to help launch our new Innovation Kitchen efficiently and with high value for all involved. I'm going to need to convey a lot of information across a wide variety of subject areas as clearly as I can.

That's why I took the Wisconsin Acidified Foods Training Course and passed my exams so as to be certified, as trained in: "microbiology of canned foods, principles of acidified foods, thermal processing, food process sanitation, facilities requirements, state and federal regulations, record keeping and process monitoring."

Not everyone will need this course to become an artisan food processor but many will. For anyone in Wisconsin thinking about this, I urge you to take this course (linked below). It's taught by Dr. Barbara Ingham, from the Department of Food Science at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Ingham teaches this course 6 or 7 times per year around the state.

I could not recommend this course any higher if you are considering any kind of artisan food enterprise in Wisconsin.

All foods with any water content have a pH. This measures the acidity of that food. A pH of 4.6 is the magic number. Foods that are pH 4.6 or lower have enough acidic content to be assured of safety. Shelf stability of acidified canned foods is ensured by a vacuum seal and adequate thermal processing.

Artisan food entrepreneurs utilizing these kinds of foods who want to work from the Innovation Kitchen will need to pass these exams first. After taking this course I sincerely believe that this is not some kind of onerous intervention into free enterprise. Just the opposite. Being part of a system like this - one that inspires the highest quality, safest and most interesting food products is a branding windfall.

If you have an interest in this subject, this course is not only fun, but it is densely packed with information that Dr. Ingham shares in ways that are understandable and easy to remember. Also the take-away binders contain printouts of everything relevant to your journey as an acidified foods for later reference.

We were also very fortunate to have Dave Steinhardt, who is a Food Safety Supervisor with the WI Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). Dave answered a wide range of questions regarding the inspection protocols that our artisan food processors will need to follow when working in the Innovation Kitchen.

This was a wonderful course. I can't recommend it highly enough.

For those of you in other areas, I would strongly recommend you search out this kind of training. It is in your own best interests. You will create better food products, and you will have a better business because of it.

Not all processors will need this kind of course. Some may need even more advanced courses, depending on the food. Some processors may require less training. My point is that you can't just wander into the subject and open up shop. You'll need to find out what training is needed and learn how to work in a community-access processing kitchen. It's not hard. You just have to do it, for all the right reasons.

So, back to the start. I believe there is a terrific entrepreneurship opportunity in artisan food processing, especially with a focus on local and regional foods.

If you have an interest in this field, start organizing yourself to get in the game. Costs to enter are low, demand is high, there appears to be a good opportunity for profit and - if this course is an indication - artisan food processing can be a lot of fun.

Download the 2010 Wisconsin Acidified Canned Foods Training for Small Food Processors brochure and registration form. PDF format. 164 KB

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