Training program helps small food businesses increase profits
Wisconsin has a vibrant “buy local” economy, and small food processors are benefiting from its momentum. Farmers wishing to add value to their crops and local entrepreneurs looking to meet customer demand are delving into the sale of canned pickles, salsas and other acidified food products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all manufacturers of acidified canned foods to receive training to help ensure food safety. To meet this requirement, each acidified food product must be manufactured under an approved and scientifically supported process.
Artisanal manufacturers of acidified foods face unique challenges in complying with FDA regulations. These businesses often have fewer than a dozen employees, may be family-run and, in all likelihood, lack a staff scientist to support the process. Small businesses need support developing safe recipes. They also need help with product and process development to manufacture a high-quality product that is properly packaged and labeled.
Extension educators developed an Acidified Canned Foods School, which meets federal standards for training while also addressing the unique needs of small artisanal processors. The program offers an in-person training, one-on-one assistance in recipe development and the approval process required to obtain a license, and help in navigating federal and state regulations that pertain to the products that they manufacture. The school has been offered 36 times since 2009, graduating 595 small business owners. While focused on Wisconsin processors, the program also supports processors in neighboring states.
More than 50% of graduates are currently processing acidified canned foods for sale under state license, and another 34% are preparing to do so. With an average of 60% of their sales coming from acidified canned food products, these businesses report substantial annual revenues: 31% report sales of under $5,000 per year, 35% report sales between $5,000 and $25,000 per year, and 33% report more than $25,000 in annual sales.