Every user of a commercial kitchen is responsible to know and be in compliance with all appropriate federal, state and local inspections, licenses, statutes and ordinances. Renters must comply with all relevant health codes and other laws governing the sale of food that are applicable to their business and method of selling. You will need to be licensed by the appropriate regulatory agency and supply a copy of a valid food license(s) before you can use the commercial kitchen.
In Iowa food licenses are issued for specific products made in a specific facility. Each user of the commercial kitchen will need to be individually licensed for the specific products they will make in the facility.
Licensing can be a complicated issue for food businesses. The first step is to know what products you want to produce and how you intend to sell them. The products you make and where you intend to sell them determine which food license, or licenses, you need to obtain. A chart showing the different types of food licenses issued in Iowa and the granting authorities issuing them can be found here.
You may, in fact, need more than one license for your business depending on your sales and marketing plans. For instance, if you want to prepare lasagna in the commercial kitchen to re-heat and sell directly to consumers at a Farmer’s Market you will need both a Food Service Establishment (RS) license and Farmer’s Market (FM) license issued by Johnson County Public Health. If you want to make the same lasagna and sell it in the deli case at a local grocery store you will need a Food Processing (FP) license issued by the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals.
Johnson County Public Health
Johnson County Public Health issues most food licenses in Johnson County. Applications and information on licenses issued by Johnson County can be found at http://www.johnson-county.com/dept_health.aspx?id=6247. You should allow at least 30 days for processing of the application and an inspection of the commercial kitchen. If everything is in order at the time of the inspection a license is issued onsite.
Licenses issued by Johnson County Public Health (JPCH) include:
- RS or Food Service Establishment, which covers the preparation of food sold on premises or sold or distributed to the public at other locations.
- FE or Retail Food Establishment, which covers food purchased on site but consumed off premises.
- MF or Mobile Food Unit, which covers food sold from a mobile food unit such as a food truck.
- FM or Farmer’s Market Food Establishment, which covers vendors selling food at an area Farmer’s Market.
- TF or Temporary Food Establishment, which covers operations for up to 14 consecutive days in conjunction with a single event.
- HF or Home Food Establishment, which is a licensed bakery located in a residence that prepares refrigerated or unrefrigerated baked goods for sale directly to consumers. Baked goods are defined as; breads, cakes, doughnuts, pastries, buns, rolls, cookies, biscuits and pies (except meat pies).
Users of a commercial kitchen who plan on selling directly to consumers will apply for a RS license in addition to another license such as MF, FM or TF depending on where the product will be sold. Caterers will apply for a RS or Food Service Establishment license.
Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals
If the product will be sold through a business that will re-sell it, such as a grocery store, a restaurant, or wholesaler, a FP or Food Processing license will be necessary. Food Processing (FP) licenses are issued by the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals (DIA). The Iowa Code defines a “Food Processing Plant” as a commercial operation that manufactures, packages, labels, or stores food for human consumption and does not provide food directly to a consumer. Application forms can be found at http://www.dia.iowa.gov/page29.html.
Once a complete application has been submitted, the DIA has 30 days to process the application and assign an inspector. After you have been notified the name of your inspector it is up to you to contact them and arrange for the required inspection of the commercial kitchen.
A good place to start understanding the licensing requirements for a Food Processing (FP) license is to familiarize yourself with the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) all food processors must adhere to in Iowa.
Acid, Acidified and Low Acid Foods
Additional licensure is necessary in order to produce acid, acidified or low acid canned foods for resell. Foods are classified as acid, low acid or acidified depending on their natural acidity. A product’s acidity is measured based on a pH scale. If the raw or initial product has a pH above 4.6 it is considered a low acid food. If the pH is below 4.6 then the food is classified as an acid food. Acidified foods are low acid foods to which acid or acid ingredients are added to produce a final equilibrium pH of 4.6 or below.
You will need to consult with a qualified process control authority to determine if your products are acidified or low acid canned foods. Iowa food businesses often use the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Food Processing Center to evaluate products, do nutritional analysis and shelf life studies. The web link for UNL’s Food Processing Center is here: http://fpc.unl.edu.
Excellent resources for understanding acid, acidified and low acid foods are available from the Northeast Center for Food Entrepreneurship at Cornell University https://necfe.foodscience.cals.cornell.edu/acid-and-acidified-foods and Clemson University at http://www.clemson.edu/psapublishing/PAGES/FOODSC/EC705.pdf.
Processing acid, acidified and low acid food products requires state and federal permission. For more information contact the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals.
If you intend to make a product that uses meat for re-sale through retail, restaurant or wholesale channels, it is not recommended that you use a commercial kitchen for production. Additional regulation by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) or the Iowa Department of Land Stewardship (IDALS) is required of a manufacturer processing meat. The requirements are very difficult to meet in a commercial kitchen. For a list of Iowa Licensed Meat and Poultry Plants that may be able to help you produce your product see http://idalsdata.org/IowaData/meatAndPoultry.cfm on the IDALS website.
All food not sold directly to the consumer that is sold to a restaurant, retailer or wholesaler, must be labeled in accordance with FDA guidelines. If you intend to sell your product to a business that will re-sell it to the public you will need to label it. During your inspection the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals will check to see that your label is accurate and compliant with FDA labeling requirements. In addition, JCPH will check labels for accuracy if you have a Retail Food Establishment license (FE) to sell packaged products at another location. A guide to labeling from the FDA can be found here: http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm2006828.htm
For more detailed information see the Food Labeling section of this website.
List of Resources:
Johnson County Public Health (JCPH)
Health & Human Services Building
855 S Dubuque St Ste 217
Iowa City, IA 52240
Phone: (319) 356-6040
Fax: (319) 356-6044
Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals (IDIA)
Food & Consumer Safety Bureau
Lucas State Office Building
321 East 12th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319-0083
Food & Drug Administration (FDA)
The FDA website offers an Overview of Requirements for a Food Business that summarizes many of the regulatory requirements food businesses face. This page provides concise information to frequently asked questions and links to publicly available resources. See http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Industry/ucm322302.htm for more information.
 Padilla-Zakour, Olga. Small Scale Food Entrepreneurship. 2nd Edition. Northeast Center for Food Entrepreneurship. Cornell University. 2008. https://necfe.foodscience.cals.cornell.edu/acid-and-acidified-foods accessed May 18, 2015.