What is a certified kitchen?
August 26, 2013 11:18 AM   Subscribe

I live in California and cannot, for the life of me, find any documentation, web site, or book that defines this. I know that foods for public consumption (for the most part) have to be produced in a certified kitchen. Are there certain fixtures or appliances REQUIRED in a certified kitchen?

What defines a certified kitchen in Los Angeles, California? I keep trying to answer this, but all I can find are rules that say you must produce the food in a certified kitchen--but I can't find out what this is.

Is it supposed to have a certain amount of air flow, ventilation, sink? Is there certain equipment it is required to be equipped with? A minimum square footage?

I understand that it requires commercial (not for home use) appliances, so no two slice toaster and cheapo handmixer. But what else? I'm thinking about eventually starting a business that roasts nuts. For this, I would need the use of a large (pizza) oven, sink, and prep space. But I won't need any large mixers, nor will I need a range. There's a lot of stuff I won't need. But are there minimum requirements for a certified kitchen?

Keep in mind, I'm in California, in LA County in particular. If you could point me to a document (or part of the building code) that explains this, I'd be grateful.
posted by rybreadmed to Work & Money (13 answers total)
Here are the LA County construction requirements for retail food facilities* (pdf)

*A place where food is stored, prepared, served, packaged, transported, or otherwise handled for
dispensing or sale directly to the consumer. This includes, but is not limited to, liquor stores,
bakeries, grocery stores, meat markets, restaurants, cocktail lounges, soda fountains, coffee shops,vitamin stores, food or herbal supplement stores, food banks, employee in-plant feeding operations(cafeterias), food market retail in association with custom slaughterers.
posted by ghharr at 11:29 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know the specific requirements, but my girlfriend has looked in to renting a certified kitchen in LA for her baking business. My understanding is that this means using an existing commercial bakery or restaurant kitchen during their down hours. Going rate is like $25-30/hr. You might want to try Chef's Center, they're in Pasadena and specialize in exactly this sort of thing.
posted by hamsterdam at 11:35 AM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

You want to call the Board of Health. The information might not be online, they can talk you through what you'll need.

But it looks like if you're talking about a small-scale operation it looks like LA has different regulations for home commercial production
posted by epanalepsis at 11:36 AM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

In Oregon here. A certified kitchen is one which has been inspected by a licensing/regulatory agency and found (certified) to be in safe and sanitary condition. The quality/type of appliances is not critical, so long as they are safe and sanitary. There are other requirements. County health department is an appropriate contact for specific information and licensing requirements.
posted by uncaken at 11:40 AM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just from working in restaurants, and YMMV vary because I've only done it in SC:

There are building codes that need to be followed. Mostly it's about the ability to get surfaces clean. Bricks aren't cool because you can't really clean stuff off of them. Some older places get around this because they're old.

You have to be able to wash everything to the DHEC standards. Which pretty much means a triple sink for washing stuff and a hand sink for washing you. Dishwashers aren't needed, but if there is one it needs to be working right. Temps differ based on the machine and the chemicals used in it. Most of the time the water needs to get into the 160-200F range, but if someone made a machine that worked with 40F water that would be fine. Although it would probably freak out a bunch of inspectors...

Airflow is bad, it means bugs and stuff can get in. You don't have to have any sort of airflow. You do have to have ventilation over cooking surfaces. Grills, fryers, flat tops, those sort of things. The power of that ventilation is proportional to the volume of food cooked/about you need it. You also have to keep the ventilation relatively clean. Pretty much just to the point where it doesn't drip grease on your food.

You're right in that you're not supposed to have home use appliances. That hasn't stopped places I've worked from having the same stick blender I have my kitchen (bought at Kohl's), the cheapest toaster known to man, and the same microwave I have at home. I also have a better mixer than one of the places I worked (I have kitchen grade Kitchen Aide while they had home use). Keep in mind though that this is mostly a safety/sanitation issue. That small stick blender isn't made to be used for hours on end every day.

You don't need to have equipment you don't need. No mixing? Don't have a mixer. It really is that simple.

Your main difference between states is going to be the building codes. And what the inspector lets you get away with. Since I'm by the water they don't worry about bugs as much. Or mice, which bothers the shit out of me. But everyone is going to have the same rules about how close to the floor things can be, how you have to store containers, and how to dry stuff.

Also keep in mind that a lot of caterers aren't officially a business. So they never have their space inspected. The ones that I know who do that are still freaks about keeping everything clean/organized. They just don't have to worry about someone breathing down their neck about it.

Also, you're graded A-D while you're open. Fs get shut down. You can stay open with a D rating. There's a list of things they look for and a certain point value each thing is worth. So let's say having a working hand sink is worth 10 points (making numbers up all over the place here). If you don't have one in a place that's reasonably easy to get to you lose those 10 points.

When you open they come by for an inspection and if everything's good they give you an A sticker. If not they'll either give you a lower one or not let you open. But I've never seen a new place with less than an A.

hamsterdam: "I don't know the specific requirements, but my girlfriend has looked in to renting a certified kitchen in LA for her baking business. My understanding is that this means using an existing commercial bakery or restaurant kitchen during their down hours. Going rate is like $25-30/hr. You might want to try Chef's Center, they're in Pasadena and specialize in exactly this sort of thing."

Unless California/LA has some weird laws going on this isn't exactly true. You don't have to have a restaurant to have a certified kitchen. If you did, how would caterers be big business since they'd be a slave to the restaurant's kitchen needs?

However, a lot of people starting out do go this route. It means they're not spending money on rent or on equipment. A lot of the time they're not worrying about equipment repair either. Just get in, make your stuff, clean up, and get out.

For example, I did an event at one of the fancy plantations down the road from me. Their certified kitchen is just a triple sink, cooler, range with oven under it, and a convection oven. There's no way you could run a restaurant out of that.
posted by theichibun at 11:42 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

A certified kitchen depends on what you are making.

If you are making something shelf stable. You can have your home kitchen certified under the CA cottage law. If your product is not shelf stable, you need to rent or own a commercial kitchen which cannot be located in your home. It is certified by the Dept. of Public Health. I have a lot more info on cottage law if you're interested, but totally not worth going into if you're making cream cakes.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:51 AM on August 26, 2013

I think a certified kitchen has been inspected and rated clean enough to serve the public. Local Board of Health probably does the certification.
posted by Cranberry at 11:56 AM on August 26, 2013

Like hamsterdam says, a lot of people solve this problem by renting space in a commercial kitchen. It might be possible to use a restaurant/bakery in off hours at a lower cost once you're established, but kitchen incubators are increasingly popular. I don't know the LA scene, but a quick Google search shows a bunch of chef's incubators that offer this kind of service. These sorts of places support a number of food entrepreneurs, so you can network, find people to help, referrals to professional services, share tips on selling your products, hear the horror stories, etc...
posted by zachlipton at 12:17 PM on August 26, 2013

First question is, what are you making? If it is a low risk food item, then it likely falls under the Homemade Food Act that was passed by the CA state legislature earlier this year and you can get your home kitchen certified. Follow epanelepsis' link above for the details.

Most baked goods would fall under that act. And things like fruit preserves.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 1:46 PM on August 26, 2013

Depending on the jurisdiction, you may need to use only NSF approved utensils and appliances. The main differentiation is that those things meet standards for clean-ability. There are no voids that can trap debris, or if there are, they can be disassembled and cleaned.

As for the broader question, yes, it's a kitchen that has been inspected by the local jurisdiction(s) and approved for whatever use you intend.
posted by gjc at 2:05 PM on August 26, 2013

Beyond food incubators and bakeries and cafes, other options include renting a church, Knights of Columbus, italian american club - many of them have certified kitchens. (data point: my company was renting a cafe in it's off hours, it didn't work out, when looking around for other options, everywhere was too expensive - until we found a nice church. We don't pay very much, we give them leftovers, and everyone is happy.) Good luck!
posted by firei at 2:08 PM on August 26, 2013

"certified kitchen" means you have been inspected by the local board of health and have passed. residential kitchens will not pass inspection due to the inability to control traffic, bacteria, etc and the fact that commercial kitchens may not be in the same space as residential living spaces in accordance with most local laws.

You don't have to have a restaurant to have a certified kitchen. If you did, how would caterers be big business since they'd be a slave to the restaurant's kitchen needs?

in truth, many caterers starting out use their home kitchens, but they are doing so in violation of the law. you can't get insurance for a home kitchen that isn't inspected by the BOH, and then registered with the state as an LLC (or other). so you would be on the hook personally if someone got sick from your food. and no, you don't need to be a restaurant, but i have catered dinners out of circa 1790 historic buildings with a 3 pot sink and electric hot plates. that, however, satisfied the code in that jurisdiction.
posted by ps_im_awesome at 5:59 PM on August 26, 2013

That's not even what I meant. Although it does happen all the time.

I meant kitchens that exist only for the catering company. No restaurant, just a fully legit kitchen inspected and everything.

I work in one right now. It's just a kitchen in the building.
posted by theichibun at 7:24 PM on August 26, 2013

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