legal Legal Sauce -vs- Hobby Sauce


Business Member
Preamble- there are MANY new sauce and product makers trying to get their businesses off and running. Many use online forums to promote their products, whether it's through posted reviews, posted videos or other social forums. I believe, and have seen, that most people in the hot chile community support the exploration of new flavors and products. The chilehead community is helpful to a fault for a great product and new producer. I'm right on board for that. There are several new producers I'm trying to help and other producers I'm working with as a co-producer and possibly co-vendors at shows and conventions. It's a lot of CO-operation within the community.

I suppose one of the main reasons for posting this is to try to elevate awareness of what it means to be a licensed processor and to make a safely processed sauce/product and also about the market of said sauces.

For this discussion, I use the term "legal product" to mean any processed product OFFERED FOR SALE, made in an inspected facility (could be a home, could be a commercial place, as long as the producer is licensed and inspected) with proper local/state/fda licensing (whatever is required for the product)
all the sauces/products OFFERED FOR SALE that are cooked up and sold to consumers... via any venue, (sold on the internet, sold out of the back of a truck...any place that can't check a health /food licence...)..without a license.

Some products, like dried herbs/spices require minimal licensing. For this discussion, I'd like to keep it to PROCESSED products. Giving away, bartering...that's a whole other topic and not going to talk about that.....we're talking about are "OFFERED FOR SALE" items.

This is my own personal view about LEGAL sauces and HOBBY sauces. Feel free to chime in with your own views, I'm sure this will be a LIVELY discussion!

Many sentiments about home made sauces being sold to consumers are heard over and over. Let's look at a couple.... And for this missive, when I say "you" I am not referring to any one particular person. It's generally directed to a "you, the consumer"... this is coming from my view as a legally licensed food processor.

Basic issues like Labeling-
I've seen many labels on hobby sauces that do not properly call out the ingredients. If someone doesn't know what tamari is, (and they have a soy or wheat allergy....) and they eat a sauce containing tamari....

"I've been cooking/canning/pickling this way for 40 years, never had a problem yet."
Things and ingredients change. Just one example- tomatoes used to have a much higher natural acid content and it used to be safe to hot water bath tomatoes when home canning. New hybred tomatoes have a much lower natural acid content, and it is no longer acceptable to hot water bath tomatoes from the garden. Now, it is recommended to pressure can tomatoes, the same as green beans and most other vegetables.

Now... if you have Granny's salsa recipe from 40 years ago that used heirloom tomatoes with a high acid content, yea, it was fine for the 40 years Granny made it. But if you try to make that sauce now and not pressure can it... with lower acid tomatoes, and fresh onions and garlic...that is a Nasty-Soup waiting to happen, and the botulism that can grow in that hot water bathed batch of home made salsa can kill someone! Not just make them can KILL THEM!

Do YOU want to take that risk? Did you realize the pH is different with different tomatoes? If you had sent Granny's Salsa in to a food lab for testing, you would know that the pH is not low enough to inhibit Nasties from growing and you would have known to pressure can the salsa.
Would a producer want to take that risk of killing someone because you don't know what the pH is? Do you as a consumer want to take that risk based on Granny's Recipe [sub](It's been made this way for 40years...[/sub]) but the pH might not be right?

"next thing you know the government will be regulating how I store food in my own home..."
Well, what you do in your own home to your own self is your own business, as long as it doesn't affect others!

When someone comes over for dinner at my house, they can make a judgement call about the environment in which the food has been prepared. Are the counters clean or full of dishes with rotten food in them? Are there bugs/vermin/catsonthecounter? Is the food hot? Is there garbage piled on the porch with rodent droppings everywhere? Is there meat sitting on the counter at room temperature?

A "consumer" (aka guest for dinner) can make a judgement call whether to stay for dinner or to leave. Buying from an un-licensed person via an online cannot make any judgement call as to the safety of the sauce you are buying and eating, therefore you, as the consumer, should rely on the the health licensing authority to make sure your sauce was prepared in a clean, pest-free environment and was processed in a way to ensure the safety of YOU and your family. Does the producer even know that mixing soap and bleach will cancel out the bleach so there is no sanitization?

The rules/regulations are there to protect YOU the consumer from what you cannot see. YOU cannot visit the meat packing plant that processes the ground beef that is used in the burger you just bought at the Drive-Thru for your self and your little kids, and the kids from the ball team that are riding home with you. YOU cannot see the temp of that meat patty as it's being cooked on the (what's that in the corner of the grill???) how-clean-is-it food establishment.
So, you rely on the health authorities to make sure your meat doesn't contain e-coli and is cooked to the proper temp so all the little angels don't get sick from under-cooked burger. [sub]Ever heard of the Jack-in-the-Box problem in the 90's? if you don't look it up, then look up spinach e-coli) [/sub]

That "clean environment and safe processing" can be achieved in a home kitchen WHERE IT IS LEGAL TO DO SO!!!! It is not totally required to put in a $$$$$ food kitchen. LOOK AROUND! there are many options of kitchens to use! There are many posts here on THP about using other kitchens for a legal business.

If, where you live, it is not legal to make products to sell out of your home kitchen, then sucks....but you better get legit before "going into business".

If someone sells a sauce that is illegally made and [sub](GOD FORBID!) [/sub]someone gets sick and it can be traced to that bad sauce, that sauce maker could be in HUGE trouble for fines and liability and damages lawsuits. If you (the sauce maker) present yourself and your product as a licensed, tested product, you are in a world of hurt if something happens! I'm not a lawyer, and this is totally up for correction from a person who knows, seems that the "perception" of being licensed is enough to cause the sauce maker a world of grief.

Just for myself, this last year, I've paid over $2100 for food lab tests, health licenses, BPCS plus a week of my life (if you are making a sauce to sell and don't know what the BPCS is, you shouldn't be making a sauce to sell!), Product liability insurance, water system bacterial and microbial tests, state business license- and that's just what I can remember off the top of my head. That's just to have a LEGAL sideline food business, not including all the state and federal TAXES that have to be paid when a person runs a legal business.

That is the type of things legal sauce makers do. Isn't that perseverence and dedication to do things the right way to protect their customers' health worth something? I've been in this business for 18 years, and I've always done it legal. I've had to make choices like- should I pay my state license of $55 or start a web site? $500 of business insurance or 5 entries in a food contest? I paid the insurance. Doing it right does suck, cuz I don't have nearly the buzz, but I can sleep at night knowing I'm doing it right.

I TOTALLY support the new sauce makers and hope they get lots of reviews and press. Hobby Saucers are how every sauce making business I know of was born. That one great review from a highly recognized blog might be just the nudge needed for someone to take it to the next step.

But it IRKS me when hobby sauces are lauded on the blogs and it's not even mentioned whether they are being produced and sold legally or not. ([sub]personal pet peeve[/sub]) And, I hope the bloggers will recognize the difference and start to differentiate between the two in their reviews. Licensed sauce makers should be identified as such compared to hobby saucers. Licensed Sauce Makers are likely sacrificing publicity to do it properly.

My personal feeling is-
if it is presented as a home made, un-tested hobby sauce...sell it, give it away, trade it, long as it is not presented as a legally produced sauce. If the consumer knows what they are buying, then the risk is on the consumer. At that point, it comes back to The Dinner Situation. If the kitchen is clean, you feel comfortable staying for dinner. If you can't see the stove for the filth, you may choose to leave before dinner.

One other note- hot sauces are pretty easy to safely make, which is why I, and most people, feel comfortable buying and eating them from unlicensed people. That does not make it legal to sell unlicensed sauces. I cannot condone selling ANYTHING made with dairy or meat that is not totally legally licensed. That whole meat and dairy thing is VERY RISKY. Don't [sub](mess)[/sub] around with selling anything meat or dairy if you are not properly licensed.

My main profession is as a self employed electrician, my second life passion is a food business. Both of those professions can kill people if those who are doing the work don't know what the hell they are doing. Both are highly regulated... FOR A keep [sub](you!) [/sub]the consumer alive. Both cost a ..[sub]lot! $$$[/sub] of money to do safely.

yea, you could get your sister's ex-fiance's half-brother's former nephew to wire your house....but .. really, what does your sister's ex-fiance's half brother's former nephew really know about wiring a house? What's gonna happen to that house if that person don't know $#!T? Who's gonna stand behind the work? ...not your sister's ex-fiance's half-brother's former nephew....and what kind of damage could that person generate....

Whether it's food service, or electricical, or car engine repair or website design... people who are not in that business should recognise what they DON'T know and allow those who do know... to protect the health and safety of themselves and their families.

The bottom line for this post is- do it right or don't present yourself as a legitimate sauce business...cuz you're not.

Please, let the discussion begin....
Quick note on the personal freedom issue; The US Constitution gives exclusive right to the federal government to control interstate and international commerce.  The Supreme Court has interpreted that in such a way as to give the federal government the right to control commerce within the states a well.  Its just the way it is.  Lets face it, it is there money.  I am sure it would be legal for two people to trade hot sauces between states. 

Now let talk art.  Going to use Lucky Dog as an example.  I just had some of his sauce.  It is only still here cause my daughter loves it so much she frigging hid half our last order.  I found it in the back of her mini fridge while cleaning it out.  I forget what I paid for it, but sure it was more than Kroger's imitation of Frank's Red Hot.  In this case the art is the flavor and what ingredients are required to make that flavor.  The art / flavor is where it is at.  So it seems logical that folk should pass the mechanics, the cooking and bottling, to someone who focuses on that aspect of production.

Lots of folk choose a copacker.  That is where you take your recipes (art) to someone else for production.  The copacker has folk to test acidity, adjust, and get your approval via a test batch. The copacker has or knows someone who knows how to create complaint labels.  The copacker likely has an approved storage facility.  Seems to me that lets the artisan spend more time working on the art itself.