|Posted by Lilly on March 30, 2012 at 9:00 AM|
One of the first steps in starting your Italian Ice business is - gulp - a trip to your local health department. Many sites will disregard this topic, as will a number of vendors. But the truth is, if you forego getting your health department license, you risk fines and loss of sales. It's just not worth it. In addition, most legitimate events that you'll want to participate in will require this license (as well as insurance).
A simple trip to your local health department will provide all the information you need to run a clean operation. Incidentally, it may not be called the health department in your area. This aspect of your business may fall under your Department of Agriculture, environmental protection, or public health. A Google search with your "state", "city" or "county" and "selling food" or "food license" should turn up the correct governmental site for your location. But by all means, make sure to only use legitimate .gov sites, as other sites may give you wrong information or be offering services for which you'd pay more.
I suggest you make an actual trip to your health department. Too many people have written that they have called and not heard back after a while of waiting. Why delay the startup of your business, when a visit will give you a chance to pick up informative leaflets. And, as happened with me, it provided for an impromptu face-to-face with the supervisor of the department, who gave me everything I needed and even suggested ways I could speed up the process or get around some of their restrictions (legally!). She also gave me valuable advice, requesting that I provide them with my cart specifications before ordering it. That alone could save ice sellers thousands of dollars and enormous headaches. Anxious vendors will often find companies wanting you to buy their carts right away, with no regard for health department requirements. Can you imagine having your cart delivered, the excitement of getting started selling, only to learn that your cart doesn't pass health inspection? And now you have to beg the cart company to let you return the unit, which they might, at your enormous cost of shipping it back to them? No, thanks!
In my case, I learned that I needed to have an onboard handwashing sink. This is a small sink for the purpose of washing my hands to prevent food contamination. The water that this sink provides needs to reach a temperature of 100 degrees or more. Upon hearing this, of course, my heart sank, because in my online search for carts, I hadn't seen any with a sink.
In speaking with one successful vendor, Pat of Mita's Italian Ice in Oregon, she has learned that her own state will soon require the handsink too. Another company in South Carolina decided to create their own carts and sell them to fulfill this same requirement (Magnolia Carts). This seems the way of the future, and while some vendors may be grandfathered in with non-sink units, in the future they will have to comply with new units they purchase having the sink or toting some type of portable sink with them to events.
As hard as it may seem to do, make the health department your friend. This is one aspect of the business you won't be able to avoid, and having them on your side can only help. They are there to serve and protect the public, not to prevent you from making a living, though it may feel that way. Look at this from the standpoint of the customer. We've all seen or eaten at establishments that seemed unsanitary, and I'm sure you can recall the feeling you had. Follow their codes and suggestions, complete the necessary paperwork (cart specifications, plan review, etc.) and with a fresh license and passed inspection, you can sell your ice successfully without fear that you're doing anything wrong, concentrating on great product and fantastic customer service.