The food tech startup community is small, and when one of the major innovators closes, we all feel loss. Today, we say farewell to Josephine.
While Josephine was a competitor to The Food Corridor, we shared a similar mission to enable efficiency, growth and innovation in local food. Josephine believed in enabling home cooks to produce food for sale. At The Food Corridor, we believe in the power of shared use commercial kitchens to produce food economically and safely. The sharing economy for food is happening across the country in places like Boston, MA (Foundation Kitchen), Austin, TX (The Cook’s Nook), Sandy Hook, VA (Chiknegg) Plano, TX (Perfect Temper Kitchen), Portland, OR (Micro Mercantes Kitchen), Omaha, NB (No More Empty Pots), and Detroit, MI (Eastern Market Community Kitchen).
Across the country, cottage foods laws have paved the way for craft food artisans to produce their goods and to sell direct to consumer. The Food Corridor supports these laws, because they strike a balance between safety and lowered startup cost. A hallmark of these laws is the limitation of only being able to produce “non-potentially hazardous” food. Potentially hazardous foods are foods that require time-temperature control to keep them safe for human consumption. Often, the risk is based on food containing protein, being slightly acidic, or containing moisture, or water activity, that when combined with temperature, can lead to bacterial growth. This is why cottage foods laws allow foods that are pickled, dried, baked, or canned but not hot or ready-to-eat foods. Such potentially hazardous foods must be produced in licensed commercial kitchens, where time and temperature can be controlled, monitored, and inspected.
Though they can be great places to start a business, home kitchens have drawbacks. Have you ever gone to a friend or neighbors home and noticed how clean, how cluttered, or how dirty it was compared to how you live? Everyone’s definition of “clean” is very different. Storage of different types of food (meat, vegetables) are often commingled in home refrigerators in ways that are not safe at scale. Even though Josephine was proactive in establishing food safety protocols and guidelines, ultimately they were skirting health department regulation. Our society has made huge strides in food safety largely because of health codes and regulations. (Anyone remember The Jungle?) Commercial kitchens are a controlled environment which limits the risks associated. There are too many moving parts when you allow home cooking, too much margin for error which can be dangerous and sometimes deadly.
Shared-use commercial kitchens across the country are experiencing a renaissance. Where they used to be vanilla commissary spaces for rent, they are now micro-communities of food entrepreneurs that participate in joint purchasing, ecosystem services, mentorship, and collaborative distribution.
While running a food business at home may seem economical, for someone looking to get in the industry, the value that a licensed shared-use commercial kitchen brings often far outweighs the hourly cost. Included in the rentals are commercial equipment that would be difficult to acquire for a nascent food business; equipment maintenance and cleaning; precisely temperature controlled dry and cold storage; commercial sewage facilities; utilities like gas; electric and hot water; pest control, security systems; and supplies like paper towels, toilet paper, soap and clean ice. Shared use kitchens, like all commercial facilities have stringent, regular inspections. They hold to procedures that quite simply would be tough at home: separate sinks for mops, dishes, hand washing and food prep areas; prep tables and other food contact surfaces constructed of stainless steel or equivalent material that is smooth and easy to sanitize; and separate storage of meat and produce.
In addition to these tangible and safety benefits, the shared knowledge of the kitchen operator and the other food businesses is a huge value. Advice can be asked, opportunities can be shared, mistakes can be avoided. The real value of the shared-use kitchen is in the community of food entrepreneurs and supporters.
While we had our differences in approach, we know that Josephine was all about supporting local food entrepreneurs with innovative technology. For that reason, and because of their support of community, The Food Corridor is sad to see them go.