Clemson Food2Market workshop prepares entrepreneurs for various food ventures
COLUMBIA – Recent graduates of Clemson University Extension’s Food2Market workshop plan to use knowledge they gained to strike out on various food business ventures, including becoming a part of the local food movement.
“There are a lot of people who cook really well, who have a product and want to sell it,” said Kimberly Baker, a Clemson University Cooperative Extension food safety associate. “Their friends keep telling them they should do more than just bring it to the church and the family reunion. They may have a great idea, but they need some help navigating the regulations that apply to food safety.”
The Food2Market workshop is designed to provide training for food entrepreneurs who want to make and sell food in South Carolina. Baker said the workshop will help both people who are starting a food production business and those already established in the marketplace learn how to weave through the macramé of regulations and agencies responsible for them.
Federal and state laws specify conditions that products have to meet for safety purposes. Baker said it’s important to have food products tested to be sure they meet those criteria.
“Foods that do not meet certain specifications can encourage the growth of bacteria, which can cause people to get sick,” she said. “This is where we come in. If someone wants to sell food they’ve prepared, they need to know the regulations associated with selling that food. We help regulatory agencies by directing entrepreneurs to the agency that has the information they need.”
Adair Hoover, a Clemson food safety agent and leader of the Food2Market program, said the workshop is two parts: an eight-week online study session and a one-day in-person workshop. Successful completion of both segments is required to receive a certificate of completion.
“This program began as a two-day workshop,” Hoover said. “However, we found it was easier for people to participate in online training and then meet for a one-day workshop. So we created an online course from materials we had to help food entrepreneurs learn how to create safe food products to sell.”
Topics covered in the online training include state and federal regulations, approved facilities, food safety plans, product testing, nutrition labeling, food processing, documents and record-keeping, traceability and recall and resources for businesses. Participants can work at their own pace.
The one-day workshop is an opportunity for participants to meet in-person and interact with food safety experts and regulators. This workshop includes a lecture session with top food-safety professionals and a networking session where participants can showcase their products while meeting with fellow food entrepreneurs. The latest networking session was held at Clemson’s Sandhill Research and Education Center.
Kevin McCurry of Columbia prepares condiments, hot sauce and pickles and is a recent graduate of the program.
“I started making pickles and hot sauce as a hobby,” McCurry said. “Then I began growing more food, so I made more pickles and more hot sauce. I heard about the local food movement and decided that was a route I should take with my food. Local food has more personality and I want to produce unique foods that are healthy and grown locally. This class helped me learn about the regulations that are involved with locally selling food. I also learned who I should contact if I have any questions.”
Priyaraja and Manikandan Bappuraja of Spartanburg brought their Coco Chews, Pittu and Paneer. The Coco Chews are coconut balls. Pittu is a lentils-based product and Paneer is a butter.
“We are a startup company and the online study provided a lot of information,” Priyaraja Bappuraja said. “It was very nice and very detailed. It gave us enough opportunities to prepare for the exam and it was a convenient way to be able to learn information we need to know to sell our products.”
About 175 people have graduated from the workshop since it began in 2013. Training is offered throughout the year.
Registration for the fall 2019 workshop is available at http://bit.ly/Food2Market_Fall2019. The deadline to register for the fall 2019 workshop is Sept. 4. Registration for the spring 2020 class is available at http://bit.ly/Food2Market_Spring2020. The deadline to register for the spring 2020 workshop is Feb. 12, 2020.