Turning the family recipe into a business: Licensing starts with food safety

To ensure your family recipe will be free from C. Botulism once it’s on the grocery shelf, it must be classified and receive a Process Authority Review to ensure it will be produced in a food-safe manner.

Getting your family recipe on the grocery shelf requires a lot of time and effort. In addition to writing a business plan, a product must be licensed and a production method that ensures the product is safe for those that eat it must be followed.  

For any family recipe that is going on the shelf instead of the refrigerated or frozen section, the primary food safety concern is the risk of Clostridium botulism (C. botulism). To prevent the toxin from developing in sealed containers, the food product’s pH and processing needs to be monitored to ensure the food is safe.

To ensure it is food safe, it must go through what’s called a Process Authority Review (PAR); doing so ensures its production process will prevent the growth of C. botulism. Based on the results of the recipe review, the product will be classified as an “acid,” “potential acid,” “acidified” or “low acid” food product. The critical pH number that separates foods into such classifications is 4.6. 

For those products coming in at a pH of less than 4.6, they are separated by whether or not the recipe has vegetables or tomato-based products in it. For those that do not, they are most likely classified as an acid. Examples of such products include jams, jellies, many tomato products, carbonated foods, fermented foods that are not packed and most fruits. For those that do have vegetables or some tomato-based products in them, then they are most likely classified as acidified. Examples of such products include salsa, some salad dressing, pesto and pack pickles.

 For those products coming in at a pH above 4.6, they are classified as a low acid and will require a Thermal Food Processing review by a Process Authority to ensure the production process is food-safe. Examples of such foods are oil and herbs mixes, soups, sauces, prepared foods and meats.

The Michigan State University (MSU) Product Center draws experts from the MSU Food Science and Packaging department to provide product testing and packaging services. Janice Harte, Ph.D., is the lead consultant for Product Testing and the MSU Food Sensory Laboratory. Harte assists food industry leaders and entrepreneurs through testing services, referrals for food product development, food sensory evaluation and by serving as a liaison for food processing and food safety information. 

The MSU Product Center provides food safety testing and assistance to help Michigan entrepreneurs develop and commercialize high-value, consumer–responsive products and businesses in the value-added agriculture, food and natural resources sectors.

For more information, visit the MSU Product Center website or call 517-432-8750.

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