Receiving certification from the Compliance Officers through the Utah Department of Agriculture is one of the most difficult steps any food entrepreneur faces. But in order to sell in stores and most farmers markets, it’s a necessity that anyone with a dream of owning their own food or farm business must endure.
I hear the lamentations of makers throughout Utah, most gripes are about all of the rules and hoops they the State makes them jump through are “never-ending”.
The regulations include:
- sink requirements
- stainless steel surfaces and easily cleanable surfaces everywhere;
- grease traps;
- drains and disposal of potentially hazardous materials;
- ventilation and hoods,
- electricity: outlets as well as voltage and amp requirements
- food handling safety requirements: hair nets, gloves, hand-washing stations
- food sanitation procedures
These massive lists appear daunting for potential entrepreneurs when they considering taking their great recipe, food product or farm/garden produce to the next level for sale to the broader public.
Still, It was quite an opportunity to go behind the scenes and see how a meeting is actually conducted among Compliance Officers for the Department of Agriculture. We were invited to attend by Laurie Seron from Utah’s Own. She invited us to have some pizza and a short meeting in their boardroom to listen in.
Utah’s Own is the marketing and outreach arm of the Utah Department of Agriculture, their goal is to put their logo on as many Utah Made food products as possible indicating regulatory compliance, good business practices, and quality as well as to encourage more Utahns to shift their spending to locally-produced food.
Helping Small Businesses
Inside we were heard from Travis Waller the Regulatory Services Division Director, as well as several other compliance officers. Travis was telling his team how important it is to, “not be condescending when telling a business owner about a violation.” And how using tact and actually encouraging business owners to get their operations in compliance is of the utmost importance. Travis offered an example:
One business owner who he recently visited had not realized the requirement for a three-basin sink to be in compliance with the law. He had done some other electric requirements and was working toward being compliance. “At that point, I could have shut him down over the sink, but I chose to work with him instead…I said, ‘I’ll give you six weeks to get the correct sink in place, but it needs to be here when I get back.’” When he returned the sink was replaced and the business owner was grateful to have a bit of leeway.
He said that not all compliance officers are as tactful as they should be and this is the main message he is trying convey, “to not be condescending, because many of these people have put their entire life savings and everything they have into their businesses, and we should be aware of how hard they are working with often little resources.”
It was very nice to hear this, coming from someone who possesses the power and authority to completely ruin someone’s day and business aspirations.
We at the Made in Utah Festival would like to collect more maker experiences with Utah Department of Agriculture compliance officers to help smooth over the process of getting certified by the State of Utah. This then qualifies any food producer to become a member of Utah’s Own, which also would enable the maker to be compliant to attend our events.
Utah’s Own now offers a product photography studio for all members. Membership is only $25-$50 for the year, and it’s clear that Laurie, who is the current Director of Utah’s Own, has a passion for her job. Laurie built up her own brand of tortilla chips and it’s obvious through her work with not only Utah’s Own but through pushing forward a central Utah Farmers Food Hub, that she wants to see Utah’s food and product makers succeed.