Back when I was dreamily picturing , the world’s greatest popcorn shop, I suspended certain realities, like building, health and fire codes because frankly, those realities are pretty overwhelming.
I promised myself I would worry about all these rules if my plan actually turned into something. Well, here it is. The construction is practically done and I find myself flooded with rules and regulations that I’m responsible for following.
It was a good thing I daydreamed about popcorn when I had the time, because lately my time has been spent reading what feels like reams of paper with codes, laws and regulations that dictate practically everything. These little details are so specific that I never could have imagined that one day I would be fretting over the height of the top of a storage shelf. Or, how far the bottom of the shelf is off the floor. Or, whether the aroma of freshly popped popcorn is considered a combustible or non-combustible vapor. (It’s mostly non-combustible.)
On the surface, some rules seem silly, like the fact that my little 600 square foot shop has five separate sinks all practically within arm’s reach. There’s a utility sink for washing the floor, a bathroom sink, a sink for hand washing, a triple basin sink for washing, rinsing and sanitizing dishes, and I’m awaiting the installation of yet one more sink for washing produce. It doesn’t sound so ridiculous if you consider that no one really wants me to wash fresh ginger in the same sink that I dump a bucket of dirty floor water, and who likes to see dishes washed in a bathroom sink?
Between the building department, fire department, health department and Ohio department of agriculture there are a host of other rules with which I need to comply. For example, my counters are under 35 inches high, the aisles are four feet wide and I have the appropriate fire suppression system. The health department required me to pass an online food safety class, which, admittedly, was kind of interesting. (I didn’t know that baked potatoes can carry botulism!) The class went into some detail about the health codes that apply to my business and I have made the appropriate purchases. In addition to a candy thermometer, I also have a thermometer with a metal probe and themometers in each of the refridgerators. I also have the required little sign in the bathroom reminding me to wash my hands even though I already knew that.
I even have to worry about lighting my shop. I didn’t know what a lumen was a year a ago, but I can tell you that my food prep surfaces all have a minimum of 50 of them shining down from my fully enclosed flourenscent bulbs.
The building and fire departments required me to submit the manufacturer and the model number of every piece of equipment in my shop. I have also submitted my menu, sanitation procedure and proof that I passed that online food safety class (with flying colors I should add).
It seems overwhelming, I know. Most peoples’ eyes glaze over when I start explaining the Ohio department of agriculture’s rules for food products labeled for individual sale. It can all be somewhat intimidating, but don’t be intimidated if you’re considering opening a business. Remember these various departments are here for a reason. We’re all alive today because we haven’t been crushed by a wall in a poorly constructed restaurant with a raging kitchen fire that was started by a botulism spore dusted baked potato.
With that in mind, here’s a couple of tips I learned that make these rules seem less overwhelming:
- The health, fire and building departments would like new local businesses to open as much as you do. Talk to them about what you want to do, and they’ll point you in the right direction. The best thing I ever did was have a conversation with my local health, building and fire departments before I even finished my buisiness plan. They’re willing to help- it will make your life, and thier jobs easier.
- That said, these departments do NOT like surprises. Give them the information they need to get you your certificate of occupancy, and assorted other permits without giving yourself a migraine. Don’t forget they have their own state and federal rules they have to abide by, and they can shut down your business if you refuse to comply.
- By doing a little homework and having a good attitude (sense of humor helps here too) it makes the whole process go smoother, and you can avoid some inconveniences down the road. Inconveniences like burning down the building, or as the electrician put it “getting lit up” by my popcorn popper.
Despite the fact that I’m so bogged down with rules and regulations that I asked for a lidded trash can for Christmas, I know it’s all going to be worth it when I do finally get my certificate of occupancy. Then with my health permit in hand, I can go back to thinking about more interesting topics, like dreaming up new popcorn recipes — maybe even a cheesy baked potato popcorn!