Seven Tips/Hacks for small food vendors and at-home manufacturing facilities

Marshalee Valentine

Thursday, April 18, 2019

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Food safety is simpler than you think. The fact that you sell pan chicken, operate a mobile food truck, or have a home-based manufacturing facility does not mean you are not required to put controls in place to ensure the safety of the food you serve or package for distribution. Undoubtedly, you may not be able to afford, or it may not be convenient to install a stainless steel wash hand sink, purchase a high tech freezer or large vessels for storage and separation. Think about it: the basic principles of food safety are to ensure you clean, cook, chill and separate. Once you have safe functional systems in place to ensure you meet the requirements based on the products you serve or manufacture, it will offer your customers some amount of confidence that they are consuming safe food.

This is in no way promoting short cuts and I fully suggest that once you are able to afford upgrades you do so accordingly, but I'll go ahead and share some tips/hacks that will help small operators such as mobile food trucks, home manufacturers and our beloved pan chicken vendors meet the basic requirements of food safety. I cannot stress how important it is that you familiarise yourself with food safety requirements, once you are involved in the food service and manufacturing industry and of course, ensure you are in possession of a food handler's permit.

1. Every food handler needs to ensure that clean potable water is available for cooking, hand washing and sanitation activities, but for someone like our pan chicken vendor, it's not that easy to wash hands conveniently without dipping another container (possibly contaminated) in the water they use for both hand washing and cooking. To make this a lot easier, ensure you bring separate water for cooking, hand washing and cleaning utensils, and label/tag as such. The hack here is to get a bucket and retrofit with pipe fittings, this can be placed on a table or custom stand for easy access. You can also buy sealed containers to store soap, paper towel and sanitiser for use in the wash hand washing process. But please keep this vessel clean and properly sanitised.

2. There are quite a few manufacturers I know of who use their homes for the manufacturing and packaging of products. This doesn't exclude them from complying with food safety regulations. Once you receive, produce and package your products at home ensure there is a designated area for processing separate from your living area. If you happen to use your kitchen for some activities, please ensure that you carry out adequate sanitation practices before you begin production. If you have a separate area, place a clean coat and a fresh pair of shoes at the entrance, that will only be worn in this area, and always wash hands before entry. You can use ply or drywall to create spaces for processing, storage and packaging, if convenient. This will assist in reducing the risk of cross-contamination with potential hazards during production.

3. If you operate a food truck, it is expected that it is equipped with adequate provision for hand washing; however, what happens when you need to “go”? Try to position your food truck or pan chicken close to functional and well-equipped/clean, sanitary facilities. Additionally, you may want to check the surroundings to make sure that you are not in close proximity to a waste disposal site or an area that has too much standing water. Try to also put mechanisms in place to pest-proof your vessel and your home if that is where you prepare/manufacture food.

4. Separation of food and food products is important to prevent cross-contamination. Invest in food-safe airtight containers and igloos. Use the containers to separate ingredients, and if you have meat and vegetables while mobile ensure that you store them in separate containers/igloos. Ensure you know your allergens and keep them labelled and separated from other food products. Always put perishable items such as vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, cut fruits on ice.

5. Label or colour-code your storage containers, igloos, cutting boards and utensils. Never use the same cutting board or utensils to handle allergenic products unless you properly clean and sanitise.

6. Buy a simple but functional thermometer to monitor cooking temperatures and the temperature of your cooling devices. It is important that you cook and chill to the correct temperatures based on the item you are handling. Keep this thermometer clean and stored in one of those airtight containers and ensure you sanitise when using on different items/products.

7. Remember bacteria thrive in warm, moist places, so always use clean/dry kitchen towels and cleaning scrubs. You can always use warm water and the right concentration of bleach to wash your items.

The size of your operation should not prevent you from playing your role in food safety; there are numerous innovative and acceptable methods of ensuring we deliver safe food to our consumers. Speak to your public health inspector from the public health department or compliance inspector from the Bureau of Standards to see what innovative methods are acceptable for your operations.

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