The Hilarious Acronym All Cooks Promote

Breaking from tradition today in terms of post naming - It's been a while since I managed to post correctly in timeline, so I wanted to quickly reference where I was picking up from (take a look here to refresh yourself on my dilemmas about quality vs legality vs budget). 

So the H.ilarious A.cronym A.ll C.ooks P.romote. More commonly known as HACCP. Let me be clear here and explain that HACCP actually stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point - though I like my mnemonic better. Essentially, this is a system for controlling the health and safety hazards that pop up during any type of food production. If you're usually the order-in-slash-use-your-oven-for-storage-type, like my partner is, you may not realize that germs and bacteria love my cooking as much, if not more than, my dinner guests. So there are several cardinal rules that I must always follow to keep those nefarious gate-crashers at bay, and HACCP helps to identify at what point in my process I left the door open wider than in others. That's the Hazard Analysis portion. 

Once I know when my door is open, I can get an idea of what sort of barriers I should erect (baby-gate, padlock, cold-storage-below-8-degrees) and when I should be double-or-triple checking that these barriers are accomplishing their purpose. That's the Critical Control Points part. I.e. At what point is it critical that I maintain control (in order to keep the food safe from foodborne pathogens from farm to fork). 

No matter what your familiarity is with keeping your cooking safe, unless you've opened a food business here in the UK, you probably don't know that having a HACCP plan in place is a legal requirement for anyone producing food for public sale. 

Because of this broad brush requirement, there are loads of template plans available out there. Basic paint-by-numbers, fill-in-the-blanks type. Simple, easy, and straightforward. Of course when you model your whole business on something unique and new and try really hard to do something never or rarely done before... well... yeah, hardly likely that you'll find something that fits without a significant amount of rework. But the government is here to help!*

Enter myhaccp.food.gov.uk

Answer every question, and boom, by the end of the, hmm, maybe 20 page site, you've got a print-ready HACCP plan of your very own. 

I wanted to share this website with you fine readers, because when I first found it, I thought it was heaven-sent. So much information on how to consider your situation - it supported all the information I had previously learned during other HACCP courses - and it sure felt like it was going to help make the analysis and ccp set-up a breeze.

 

Wrong

Yeah. Only the super sarcasm of Hugh Laurie could convey how wrong I was. Not to say that this program isn't as helpful as expected - it's just that it cannot save you from yourself. And if you are hell bent on considering every single possible moment where there are even just tiny cracks around the edges of your door (are you still following this metaphor?!) then, it's going to take a while, whether you use a tool like myhaccp or not. I've been seriously working on this plan since December 2014. That's a long time, yo. 

But, on the flip side, once I'm 65 and the plan is actually complete - you can be guaranteed that everything you purchase from Crown & Queue Meats will be as safe as I can make it. And frankly, as opposed to the typical cooked dinner, raw fermented meats carry a teensy bit more risk. Plus, myhaccp was super helpful with shining a light on areas of safety I hadn't originally considered.

Yeah, you might think that, as anal as I already am, the LAST thing I needed was someone pointing out where else I could obsess, but that isn't so. As a sole business owner (and the only producer, accountant, janitor and delivery driver) you can easily lose sight of the grander picture of what you're doing. And even with the best of intentions, you can overlook something terrifically dangerous. I remember reading about this woman who poisoned 47 police officers with tuna sandwiches - and just thinking: "She probably didn't set out to do that!" According to the poisonees, they quite liked this lady and often purchased items from her kitchen. Close your eyes to one thing because you have 100 sandwiches to make, and well, it can really snowball. 

That AIN'T gonna happen to me. So, I'm just going to keep pushing on with my 4-month-and-counting plan. And it will be the gold standard for any cured meats producer to come after me. Or, at the very least, one more template to add the heaving online mass. 

Tune in next time for a herbaceous take on the "water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink" adage. Yeah, sure, it grows here... but you can't have it.

Tah ta till then!

 

*Don't fuss, libertarians, I'm not saying that they are in every situation. Just for HACCP. 

 

 


"Always Do Things Right...

This will gratify some people and astonish the rest." - Mark Twain

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I want to share a dilemma with you today. I'm not sure if this is of immediately obvious concern to anyone who hasn't tried to start their own shebang, but maybe it is... I'm so deep down into this whole process that it was often difficult to remember what life looked before!

In a nutshell, the dilemma is: How do I get what I consider to be of adequate quality, while satisfying legal requirements and keeping inside my budget?

The 'what' in the sentence above refers to a great may things - from equipment (New of everything! Best brands! Top of the line!) to systems (Checklists for all! Accept no mistakes!Throw out everything that doesn't taste like a 10!)

There have been many places where this dilemma has taken the limelight - but perhaps first and foremost was during the time I described in my last post... when I was getting into Floortown (with a slight layover in Drainageburg). 

I sketched out a little picture for myself during that period... And here it is in all its doodle-glory. 

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Perhaps stupidly, I have a line below which I will not go, quality-wise, even if it meets standards and fits the budget - but just how high can I go before I fall out of spec with one or the other of the other conditions?!

As if I couldn't get the grasp of it when I made my first doodle - I made another. I guess I thought it might be easier to understand as a Venn diagram? Sheesh. 

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Anyway.

Essentially - there is a magic, holy grail (yup - that's the cup pictured in the center!) where my personal quality standards compromise to meet both legal and budgetary requirements. And yet, as I am basically crazy - and anyone who is trying to start a business has no business being otherwise - I STILL cannot accept middle of the road. I simply must be better than average (the word 'best' is a frequent visitor to my lips), so I inevitably spent more money than most trying to get to Floortown (and will again to eventually to retire in Cureroomopolis with summers by Lake Gonnarunsosmoothly). 

These are dangerous places to visit or stay in with a disposition like mine - because I can easily get talked into spending much more than my budget can handle under the unassailable logic of "It'll cost more to fix/re-do/maintain if I cheap out on this now!" also known as the Savings-in-The-Long-Run argument.  

Reasonable logic, but the Dilemma then argues that if I agree to too many of those, I will find myself skimping on items that I need right now. Or...even.. worse... (the true horror for any new entrepreneur)... I could completely run out of liquid cash. Imagine those last few days before payday where you're trying to make ends meet and you're completely strapped? Now imagine that in order for payday to actually arrive, you need to keep spending money... That's the horror of running out of cash as a business owner. 

I wish that I could say that I have come up with a satisfactory conclusion. 

I will say that my tendency to let myself be swayed only by quality has been on the decline... Basically, as a function of obscenely high-priced purchases at the beginning of this journey ("Sure! £700,000.00* for drains sounds about right. Where do I sign?"), I am now scrounging around in the bins of my neighbourhood for anything I can jury-rig, DIY, into a functioning piece of equipment... But always falling above my personal limits of course! 

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Next up - The Hilarious Acronym All Cooks Promote... Anyone who knows what I am talking about gets three points. Anyone who doesn't will have to tune in next time!

 

*Prices changed to protect my wallet. 

 


Steps to Opening a UK Food Business - Part 4

"The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists" - Charles Dickens

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There is one step in the voyage towards self-employment and own-business-hood that cannot be avoided. That is to say, if you're going to purchase a whole pig's carcass, from a British farmer who lets his heritage breed animals frolic in the forest, doesn't use antibiotics except for therapeutic reasons, and refrains from feeding them animal flesh, you need a place to put the pig.  

And generally speaking - if you're going to try and sell what you make out of that pig - it cannot be just any old place. It needs to be the right temperature, have proper ventilation, pest control... (I really cannot stress the amount of etceteras I could add to the end of that). And, arguably most important of all, you gotta lay all that down on top of appropriate flooring

Getting both of those things (a place and a floor) has been an interesting adventure. 

Sometime ago - I mentioned that I tentatively asked to become a part of an amazing food community based in South London (I say 'tentatively' because even as I asked them to let me in, I knew that personal reasons might well have kept me have been able to accept). At any rate, they said 'yes', my personal situation resolved itself unexpectedly, and a few weeks ago this happened:

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Crazyness. 

Anyhoo - I have already shared pictures of what a total construction zone the place was to begin with (they're here, in case you'd like a refresher). But even though those keys let me into a much cleaner space...

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it still wasn't the kind of place that you could butcher a pig in. Well, you could, but in this adventure, I've learned that there is a very fine line between professional and psychopath, and it's best to build up as many accoutrements as you can to keep yourself from veering towards the latter!

Probably not the moment to share that picture of me wearing a pig's head.

But I digress. 

What I needed, first and foremost, were drains and floors. Drains are pretty key, by the way - they allow you to keep a much cleaner space than you might realize. Think about the difference between cleaning your tub and your bathroom floor. Way easier to keep the tub clean when you can just run the water all over that bad boy and it disappears, no?

But it's not like you can just drill down and pop a grate in there. They have to be in the right place, leading to the correct sewers... and it costs a whole heck of a load to drill through whatever is between you and the underworld. More than I've spent on anything for this business so far - and at the end of it, you're still basically just looking at the exact same arch. I could post a picture of the finished work - but it would be like playing one of those 'what's different' identical photo games. 

Next came the floors... non-slip, scrubbable, resilient and hard-wearing. And blue! So pretty. 

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I don't think I will be able to really communicate how much stress and effort and money and time it took to get from the simple key holding stage to the beautiful, albeit empty, arch above. Hours and hours of phone calls, having to pre-muthafrickin'-pay! (yeah, that's a lot of money to watch go out of your account without anything to show for it), long-distance arranging of keys and several successive quotes where the price just kept rising.  

I particularly enjoyed* the bit where they took 16 hours to lay the first layer, than soaked the paperwork they needed me to sign with chemical, left with the floors only half-finished and then left them that way for three weeks. And, since they forced me to pay in advance because I didn't have any credit history as a company, I was basically up the creek without any leverage, or a paddle, or whatever. 
 
Sigh. 
 
But all's well that ends well, right? Next time we'll talk the balance between buying the best of everything, satisfying legal requirements and staying on budget. They'll be diagrams! Ooh! Razzle, dazzle! Swish! You'll love it. 
 
 
*Sarcasm. Just in case that wasn't super obvious. (oops! More sarcasm! haha)

"Open Your Refrigerator Door...

And you summon forth more light than the total amount enjoyed by most households in the 18th century." - Bill Bryson

Back! Back from a visit to ye ol' piggy farmer with a purse full of shoulder meat. Thankfully, there aren't any borders between Colchester and London. I don't want to think about the lies I'd have to tell to sneak a load like this one if I were heading back to Canada!

I have to admit, I was perhaps a little too excited at the scene set before me at the farm - and I let it get the better of me in their farmshop... 

The Butcher ShopIMG_3936

Especially... ESPECIALLY, because I haven't any real capacity to turn meat into sausage at the moment! You mightn't be surprised to learn that meat doesn't become shelf-stable, fermented or cured on its own. But it takes more than just the run-of-the-mill ingredients that you keep in your kitchen. Or even the ones in my kitchen. (Yup. I'm implying that I stock better sh*t in my kitchen than you do. So what? I totally do. But I don't stock fermentation chambers, as a general rule...)

If this whole adventure has taught me anything though - it is that I have a grand capacity to push my dreams/schemes into reality. So I simply sat about dreaming/scheming on how to get what I needed to turn this glorious hunk o' shoulder into sausage (that one, yeah, the one right behind the leg!) before I had any premises set up. 

Then, lo and behold, what should I find on a quiet walk through my neighborhood?!

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No... it didn't come in the trolley - That was another serendipitous find. Seriously! I found the trolley first, and was wheeling it back to Tescos when I found the fridge on another side street. 

Trolley
See! Proof.

You may not know, unless you follow sites like Ben Starr's, or The Sausagemaker's, that small refrigerators like these make just about the most perfect home-curing chambers you can get. A little elbow grease and some retro-fitted controllers and you're good to go. 

And, as street-finds go, I didn't really hit any snags at all when it came to claiming this refrigerating beauty... unless you count what it feels like to walk through a crowded suburb wheeling a mini fridge on a shopping cart. Yeah. Basically, I think it was more alarming to people that I was walking calmly, and not talking to myself or throwing cats. 

I'm nothing if not resilient under trying circumstances - so a little whistling, a confident cheerful demeanor, and an elevator large enough to fit my entire shopping cart were all I really needed to see this particular scheme to its logical conclusion.

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As regards the next step, I'll spare you the gory details, but picture a lot of soap. 

 And then, finally, just a matter of hooking up these babies

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and Treeby Humidor 2.0 will be ready to go!

Saaaaaahhhweet. (If I do say so myself).  Next up! Logos, Leases, and Lasgana, oh my!

 


Steps to Opening a UK Food Business - Part 2

"I don't know where I'm going, but I'm on my way" - Carl Sandburg

Picking out a premise!

Here's my baby-in-progress.  

Adding in drains, finishing the floors, more cladding on the walls, fixing the small matter of the 'no front wall' (not pictured), and then its on to the CURING ROOMS!

Artist Rendering

 

 

Whimsical Alcoves
Whimsical Alcoves!

 

 

Arch #8
The Whole Shebang!

 

 

WISH ME LUCK!

 


"Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run...

...than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold." - Helen Keller

Have a gander at this article about nitrates and nitrites. And remember while reading it that 'how I was going to deal with these dangerous additives' was the first question I ever received about this project... long before, 'how ya gonna pay for it' and 'what about E coli 0157'. Hmmm. 

 

Article on Nitrites
I hope people feel about Jane, they way they do about Simon!

Steps to Opening a UK Food Business - Part 1

"Good enough isn't" - Adrienne E. Treeby

So. I'm breaking with tradition here a little bit. Normally, I don't give a post such obvious direction. But since we're in the endgame here - I decided to be a little more direct. This will be the first in a series covering the baby-steps Crown & Queue is taking into the real world. 

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Health and Safety

For a good long while I allowed myself to be surprised that there just didn't seem to be as many regulations here in Europe as there are in the U.S. and Canada. Beginning my research into the legislative health and safety requirements necessary, I found repeated admonishments to 'do good', to 'take care' and 'have a HACCP plan'*. But nothing particularly SPECIFIC! Coming from a continent that has rules like 'x-item must be so many mm in length and so many mm away from the wall and so many mm from a water source', it was just so confusing to be trusted. I kept thinking that there must be something I was missing... 

But this isn't the first time I've noticed that Europe has a more relaxed - some might term it 'understanding' - attitude towards food management. When I worked for the Cheese Shop - I noticed this same phenomenon. Cheeses, all out on a counter? Exposed to the open air? Exposed to, gasp!, the possibility of human touch?! That would never fly in the homeland. Yet, if these sorts of conditions were actually unsafe, then Europeans would be dropping like flies! And they're not... 

So maybe the explanation for my lack of success at discovering any enforceable minutiae is not that I'm missing something but rather that Europe is getting something. Or always got it. That food doesn't necessarily need to be thoroughly wrapped in antiseptic packaging to be kept safe. That our systems can handle a little rocking. Perhaps they didn't have the microbiological vocabulary to describe what was happening a hundred years ago, but if you look at the traditional techniques we've been handed down, you realize that without knowing it those old-school cheese-and-salume-making were abiding by everything we can put it a name to now. 

At any rate - I don't believe in doing anything by half-measures. You might take note of the quote above? So whether or not, I have to, I'm going to read everything I can and I'm going to re-up all my certifications. 

That last one begins today... with a course at LivingroomCordial** - a CIEH (that's the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health) approved teaching center. A Level 3 course in Food Safety Supervison for Manufacturing. 

So far, although it's fun to go over all this stuff again and I like the teacher and other students, it's mostly been complete review. But hey.... sigh... no half measures. And I think it will definitely be worth it to include this certification in my qualifications. Because, spoiler alert, part 2 is about getting some more funding!

Visit to the new site at the end of the week!! Pictures, pictures, pictures. 

 

*Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point plan. It's basically a system to help food businesses avoid any issues before they even occur. You Analyze all the moments in the flow of food through your business where Hazards lurk. Then you specify at what or which level/temperature/condition Controlling becomes Critical. In other words, past this line YOU DO NOT CROSS. haha. 

**Yeah, that's totally a pseudonym. Deal with it.