Cake decorating is a very hands-on discipline. We constantly use our hands to mix, form and decorate cakes. We use terms like homemade, free-handed and handmade, yet it can sometimes be easy to forget that when you walk away after a delivery, there will be many people not only enjoying your beautiful sugar decorations, but they will be putting all those “handmade” decorations into their mouths.
Photo via Maggie Austin
We spend hours, weeks and months practicing, yet how careful are we to make sure the cake, fondant and icing are safe to eat?
Hopefully food safety is the largest concern we have when decorating a cake. Most food safety rules are common sense and they are rules you have learned since you were a child in the kitchen.
Today, we are going to dive deeper into a few of the most important rules and discuss how they relate to cake decorating in our homes and in a commercial kitchen.
Before we dive into food safety rules, let’s go over how you earn a food safety license.
A food safety license can be called many things, a food safety permit, food handler’s permit or a food safe certification. Every city, county, state or country can have different guidelines and procedures when it comes to getting your food safety license, so check your area.
In the U.S., the largest licenser is ServSafe. On their Web site, you can find local classes that will teach you everything you need to know for the test as well as the food safety laws in your area.
In the UK, the license is called a Food Hygiene Certificate, and there are various companies that offer online training and testing. If you are planning to be a home-based baker per the Cottage Food Laws in your area, you may still be required to earn your food handler’s permit. If you are planning to open a commercial kitchen, you will need to earn your food safety certification before applying for city or state business licenses.
Now onto food safety rules:
1. Wash, wash, wash!
I know, this seems like a no-brainer, but it is the best possible way to keep your cakes safe for consumers.
So when and how often do we wash our hands? Here are a few suggestions:
- Before you begin baking.
- If you touch your face or your clothes.
- If you touch a cell phone or papers you are working with
- After you use the bathroom (of course) but also when you arrive back at your work station. For example: if you use the bathroom then walk across your bakery or across your house and into your kitchen, then wash your hands again before you start to work. That is the rule set up by the FDA. Bacteria can be present on common surfaces, from tabletops to cell phones, and can contaminate your product, so don’t take the risk and make sure to wash your hands!
2. No Bugs…no pets
Pet lovers beware: If you decide to open a cottage bakery in your home, pets are not allowed in the home. Children and sick people should also be kept out of the kitchen while working, and the house should be treated for insects.
3. Foodborne illnesses
So what are the foodborne illnesses and where do they come from? The two most common pathogens found to cause illness are E. coli and salmonella. Both types of bacteria are found in the intestinal track of humans and other warm-blooded animals. They assist in breaking down the food in our stomachs and intestines. Small amounts are passed through and out of your body. This is where the dirty hands can easily contaminate food.
Remember the table you ran your fingers across or the cell phone you touched. You may have washed your hands, but what about your child, a visitor or a customer? These two species can thrive for hours, days and even weeks after being separated from their host. When they reach food, they can start to multiply and double every 10 minutes. Within four hours, you have enough bacteria to cause illness. I know this is gross to think about, but the hazards are very real.
4. Fruit fillings, cream cheese and other perishable fillings
Now that I have sufficiently grossed you out, we need to consider cake fillings. Customers love light and fluffy, decadent cake fillings, but we need to be very careful. Fresh fruit can go bad very quickly, especially when mixed with sugar. The use of cream, milk and cream cheese are considered “perishable items” by the FDA and are banned from being used by Cottage Food bakers. Make sure that all perishable items are kept in the fridge at the correct temperatures and once the fillings are added, keep the cake in the fridge as well.
Eggs are one of the top ways to introduce foodborne illness into a beautiful work of sugar art. Many icings contain egg whites. Make sure you purchase pasteurized eggs whites or that you cook the egg whites before using them. Also, when using eggs, make sure to crack them all in a separate container, one bad egg can ruin a whole cake. Your cakes should also be cooked all the way through.
6. Buy from a reputable source
When you take your food safety class, this is something they mention about every five minutes. It is critical to your success. When purchasing ingredients for your bakery, whether it's home based or a commercial kitchen, make sure you purchase from a reputable source that has documentation, certifications and that they follow the FDA guidelines. Grocery stores and wholesale stores are an example of a reputable company. Using eggs from your pet chickens, or using fruit off your neighbors tree, or even purchasing fruit from the farmer down the street can be dangerous, resulting in people getting sick and you losing your bakery and possibly even finding yourself in litigation.
There are no shortcuts when it comes to your customers' health and wellness. Be smart about your cleanliness, enroll in a food safety course, make sure you have the certifications you need, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Do your research and find a class that will work for you in your area.