Dept of Health needs info - can you help me word it?

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I have been performing off-premises (on-site) catering for almost 20 years in another state.  I do ZERO prep or cooking before arriving to the client's kitchen (other than cakes).  Everything is done on the client's premises.  I have worked this way even for 400 guests.  It works great for me and I have no intention of changing my way of doing business.  To me, this is much safer than cooking and transporting.  I am always hearing: "Your food doesn't taste like wedding food!"  I want to keep it that way.  

My husband was relocated to Mississippi and I am starting over.  I started under the wire and have been fairly successful in building my business considering I only started a few months ago.

I need to get legal though.  I do not like looking over my should constantly.

The MS Dept of Health requires that I fill out a Food Establishment Plan Review geared towards catering.  No problem.

But they also want me to have a full service kitchen - which I do not use or need.  I do not cook anything or even cut a single mushroom at my homebase.  I only need to store (dry storage and cold storage only and all required sinks).

Because I am insisting I do not use cooking equipment at my kitchen, they also want a Standard Operating Procedure that DETAILS every step I take to get the finished product.

I have to detail out shopping for product, storing it, transporting it to the venue, etc.  I can't find anything that already exists for guidelines for these circumstance.  Does anyone know if it exists?  

I have to provide menus - cooking details including equipment used) - it's completely insane - all as a part of my SOP.

If this does not exist, does anyone know if written guidelines exist for transporting food from the commercial kitchen to the client's venue?  i can modify that and make it work.

I am struggling with wording all of this correctly so I have as little kick back as possible.

Thank you.
 
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It sounds to me that this fall more in the category of being a private chef as opposed to catering? Maybe you could tackle the issue from that angle. But please correct me if I am wrong.

Anyway, good luck and keep us posted as this is an interesting subject 
 
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You can't be the only one. FInd another long established caterer and ask how they deal with it. Someone in your area must have figured this out.
 
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I've heard of this- good luck, I think you have a lot of typeing ahead of you. But chefwriter is right, if they are requiring it of you they are requiring it of someone else.
 
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The problem is (if I read your post right)  the raw ingredients are not going directly to point of sale (that being an inspected kitchen with a reefer/freezer temps paper trail....everything off the floor and lower than (insert measurement here) from ceiling...yadayada.

But you know this already.....

I would almost suggest you are being made an example of.....

That when you present this ton of paperwork some ahole in the HD office will point out the above and deny your license.

The only solution I can think of is to look around for an inspected incubator kitchen that can rent you cold and dry storage.

HTH.

mimi
 
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I personally think you just need to change one word. Instead of transporting product to the venue use the word delivery. I would just contact your vendors

and explain your situation and work out something so the health dept is under the impression your product is being delivered to the venue. If your working out of a legal kitchen

at the venue I can't see a problem if your product is being delivered directly to the kitchen. I can't believe that restaurants have to have an SOP to have food delivered. Unless

they are using the term SOP for HACCP.

It sounds like they think you are working under some sort of Cottage Food Act. I'll do some snooping, I'm affiliated with MicroMentor and have worked with some people in Miss.
 
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It sounds to me that this fall more in the category of being a private chef as opposed to catering? Maybe you could tackle the issue from that angle. But please correct me if I am wrong.

Anyway, good luck and keep us posted as this is an interesting subject 
I am trying this also.  So far, no luck.  They look at me like I've grown horns.
 
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You can't be the only one. FInd another long established caterer and ask how they deal with it. Someone in your area must have figured this out.
So far I am finding this area to be very unfriendly in this industry.  I have lots of calls out to people, no return calls as of yet (for over a month now).  According to a couple of catering vendors I spoke to, at 70% of the caterers are operating illegally.  So, I don't know who the 30% would be to ask how they are doing it.  I will keep trying though.
 
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I've heard of this- good luck, I think you have a lot of typeing ahead of you. But chefwriter is right, if they are requiring it of you they are requiring it of someone else.
I turned in a 26 page request this morning.  Here's hoping!!
 
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If no return calls, then I would suggest a personal visit. Phone calls are easy to blow off, forget to return or get back to later. 

You can also talk to people as if inquiring about a good local caterer. find out the owners name, the general attitude towards them (friendly or all business?) etc. 

I have found that most business owners, when approached in a friendly way from another business owner are more than willing to share their experience. Keep in mind that it is flattering to be asked your opinion. Find the right time for them to be approached, do it in person and be sure start off on a positive note. 

"Hi, my name is … . I heard your one of the best caterers in the area so I was hoping you could help me?" 

A good business with a solid reputation isn't going to be put off or intimidated by your idea of becoming a caterer. They have plenty of clients and are long established. All you want to know is how much of these requirements are BS or real. 

A phone call could be from anyone, not always handled well by the receiver. But a well timed, courteous, in person cry for help is hard to ignore. 

I should mention that I wouldn't take the catering vendors word for anything. Unless the Health Department in your area is unbelievably incompetent, lazy or extremely corrupt, there is no way 70 percent of local caterers are illegal. They all get inspected, in many localities those inspections are now online and if they are good caterers, they wouldn't be caught dead knowingly violating Health Dept. regulations. Not to mention the effect of social media these days. Word gets around FAST. 
 
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Hello, everyone!!  Thanks for all of your comments and suggestions.  I haven't dropped this thread and forgotten about it.  I'm still fighting the cause.

I don't have anything new to update.  I am still looking for a home-base.  I know the right place is out there.  

As far as the personal chef angle, the Health Dept told me that being a personal chef is illegal in MS - uh, no way!  I flat out do not believe that.  So, anyone with the means is not allowed to hire a private chef?  Really?  They told me no.  I'm not buying it for a second.  Still fighting that fight also.
 
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Pm @Brandon O'Dell. He is a private chef with a company that employs several private chefs. He might have some good info for you.
 
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If these say it's illegal it's has to be written someplace that s/b easy to find. I think the HD is having a problem with your cooking on site in unapproved kitchens. I mean your not cooking in a HD inspected licensed cooking and prep kitchen. In most cases the HD doesn't worry about caterer's as much unless they are feeding the public. The ones your doing are private parties using their kitchens. I also think the HD has a problem with you shopping for food and storing it where? If you shop for a party a few days before the party how does the food stay cold. Your home isn't a proper place to store food as far and the HD is concerned. I would just write out from beginning to end how you do things. Take a couple of sample menus to show them what you do. Remember, they just want to know the what, where, when and hows. Just make sure everything you do complies within the guide lines of keeping food safe..........Good luck.......
 
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ChefBillyB

Thank you for your reply.  I have done exactly that.  I have submitted everything to them, step by step, including recipes and what equipment I use to prep and cook.  I have asked them point blank: if a wealthy person wants to hire a personal chef, how is that handled? "That's not allowed,"  is the answer I get over and over.  That's crap and we all know that.  

I completely understand the storage of food and all that.  That being said - no one will ever convince me that cooking it and traveling with it and attempting to keep it hot or cold is any safer than storing it in the manner the vendor sold it.  Or that cutting vegetables and fruit before traveling is safer than leaving them intact until after arrival.  For instance, tomatoes can be room temp until you cut them.  So how is it better that I have to cut them before traveling?  Oranges?  Onions and potatoes?  How?

But I digress, those are the rules (as ill-founded as they are).

On most of my jobs, I purchase food and store it at the client's location.  I do not have a heavy work load.  I only take jobs that are convenient for me and allow me to work in the manner I am comfortable working.  Which is to use the client's location for everything.  Food is fresher, not over cooked and dry from traveling and tastes so much better.  If I cannot do that, I turn down the job with rare exceptions.

I worked a wedding for 150 a couple of weeks ago.  It was held at their church with a HUGE commercial style kitchen.  Even after purchasing food and storing it, there was still lots of room left over.  Anyway, I was given a key on Wednesday and started shopping over the next three days.  I dropped everything off as I bought it and stored it there - in their commercial equipment.

The MS Dept of Health is telling me I cannot do any of that.  I have to have a home-base, I have to cut, prepare and cook everything at that home-base and travel with it whether I'm a caterer or a personal chef.

I guess the difference is a private chef's home-base is the client's address - but it's still not commercial, so I'm still not buying that personal cheffing is illegal in the state of MS.
 
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Like i mentioned before. Just look around for an incubator. This way you can get a license and insurance. It sounds like their concerns are haccp.
 
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ChefBillyB

Thank you for your reply.  I have done exactly that.  I have submitted everything to them, step by step, including recipes and what equipment I use to prep and cook.  I have asked them point blank: if a wealthy person wants to hire a personal chef, how is that handled? "That's not allowed,"  is the answer I get over and over.  That's crap and we all know that.  

I completely understand the storage of food and all that.  That being said - no one will ever convince me that cooking it and traveling with it and attempting to keep it hot or cold is any safer than storing it in the manner the vendor sold it.  Or that cutting vegetables and fruit before traveling is safer than leaving them intact until after arrival.  For instance, tomatoes can be room temp until you cut them.  So how is it better that I have to cut them before traveling?  Oranges?  Onions and potatoes?  How?

But I digress, those are the rules (as ill-founded as they are).

On most of my jobs, I purchase food and store it at the client's location.  I do not have a heavy work load.  I only take jobs that are convenient for me and allow me to work in the manner I am comfortable working.  Which is to use the client's location for everything.  Food is fresher, not over cooked and dry from traveling and tastes so much better.  If I cannot do that, I turn down the job with rare exceptions.

I worked a wedding for 150 a couple of weeks ago.  It was held at their church with a HUGE commercial style kitchen.  Even after purchasing food and storing it, there was still lots of room left over.  Anyway, I was given a key on Wednesday and started shopping over the next three days.  I dropped everything off as I bought it and stored it there - in their commercial equipment.

The MS Dept of Health is telling me I cannot do any of that.  I have to have a home-base, I have to cut, prepare and cook everything at that home-base and travel with it whether I'm a caterer or a personal chef.

I guess the difference is a private chef's home-base is the client's address - but it's still not commercial, so I'm still not buying that personal cheffing is illegal in the state of MS.
I follow all the reasons why you do what you do. The HD in many cases only follow the rules set up for their county or state. They only know what they know. When something comes up that is out of the box, their stumped. I have had the HD call me and ask me what I thought about a food prep of process they weren't familiar with. They have policies and proceeders set up for caterer's that have cooking kitchens that are inspected and licensed. I wonder if you even have to be licensed and inspected under the HD because your not selling to the public. Your being hired by a private party and cooking for their guests. It would be different if you were selling to the public......
 
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Like i mentioned before. Just look around for an incubator. This way you can get a license and insurance. It sounds like their concerns are haccp.
I have insurance.  There's no way I would do this without insurance.

I have been desperately looking for an incubator.  So far the closest one is 2 hours away in Louisiana.  The only one I can find in my state is 5 hours away.  I searched using the following terms:

kitchen incubator

culinary incubator

catering incubator

baking incubator

and a few other terms.  I keep coming up empty.  I contacted Jackson County incubator business program - nothing.  I'm losing faith fast.

I can't find a commercial kitchen to rent that is small enough.  They are all full restaurant spaces and therefore out of my price range.  I'm looking at food trucks, also.  I just wasn't prepared to spend that kind of money this second.  Although, I feel that is my best bet in the long run.

I'm not totally giving up yet.  But I honestly think I've about exhausted all avenues. 
 
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I follow all the reasons why you do what you do. The HD in many cases only follow the rules set up for their county or state. They only know what they know. When something comes up that is out of the box, their stumped. I have had the HD call me and ask me what I thought about a food prep of process they weren't familiar with. They have policies and proceeders set up for caterer's that have cooking kitchens that are inspected and licensed. I wonder if you even have to be licensed and inspected under the HD because your not selling to the public. Your being hired by a private party and cooking for their guests. It would be different if you were selling to the public......
They insist that I do and have given me a cease and desist in the meantime.  I did a job a couple of weeks ago in spite of - and I worried the whole time.  This has become so stressful for all the wrong reasons.

They said I am selling to the public because I buy the food.  I understand that thinking.  So I'm thinking there is a loophole where the client gives me a prepaid debit card for food expenses.  I mean we all know that people with personal chefs and housekeepers do not shop for their own food (not in general, anyway).  They are given a budget, right?  So how are they paying?  Either getting reimbursed or a debit/credit card that the employer funds.  I don't see why I can't do something like that legally.  I would have to change my website and remove the word catering.  I think that word has them in a knot since they can't think outside the box.  I can still have it in my tags and reference catering so it comes up in a google search.  

I don't know.  This whole thing has me exhausted. 
 

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