FDA Reader
Simplifying Food Regulation


FDA Reader: Simplifying Food Regulation

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Breaking Down Shared Kitchen Terminology
Shared Kitchens Ghost Kitchens Blog Post.png

Shared Kitchen? Cloud Kitchen? Ghost Kitchen? Commissary Kitchen? Black Box Kitchen? Incubator Kitchen?

Unfortunately, these terms are often used interchangeably throughout the food industry. Not only in news articles but in government regulation, there are a litany of confusing and inconsistent definitions.

Fortunately, they have one commonality: They refer to a food production space which includes some shared infrastructure across multiple businesses.

Some of these terms have a more specific definition or were created to reflect a particular context. The sections below are an attempt to sort this out so we can find consistency in this sector:

Shared Kitchen:

At it's broadest, this entails multiple food businesses operating in a single location which makes use of some shared infrastructure. This term encompasses all of the other terms described in the article and I favor it as the overarching industry descriptor for these business models.

Other equivalent terms include: shared-use kitchen, licensed commercial kitchen (LCK) and commissary kitchen. However, the term commissary kitchen or simply commissary may also refer to a large food processing space operated by a single tenant. For this reason, I prefer not to use this term to describe shared processing spaces.

Incubator Kitchen

This refers to a shared kitchen specifically designed for early-stage food businesses where the site management takes an active role in growing the tenant businesses. Adopting the term incubator from the tech industry, the term Incubator Kitchen implies that the management supports the entrepreneurs to refine their idea and their business model. This may include taking an equity stake in the fledgling businesses but not necessarily.

Incubator Kitchen ≠ Shared Kitchen

Incubator Kitchen is often mistakenly used interchangeably with shared kitchen, especially when the majority of tenants in a shared kitchen are early-stage businesses. However, this does not alone make the business an “incubator kitchen” and the use of this term is misleading when the site management’s offering does not actually “incubate” these businesses in any meaningful way.

There’s a second reason for this term’s popularity: “incubator” is a buzzy term from the tech-sector that people associate with rocket ship growth trajectories, venture capital, and million dollar buyouts. In other words, it’s good marketing.

Here’s an easy way to differentiate the two: the goal of an incubator kitchen is to develop and grow the tenant businesses operating in the space, not maximize occupancy. If the operator is measuring success through occupancy, they probably aren’t an incubator.

Ghost Kitchens, Dark Kitchens, Black Box Kitchens & Cloud Kitchens

For simplicity, I’ll use the term ghost kitchen throughout this section.

These terms all refer to the same thing: a food processing facility which has no dine-in retail component. Typically, all of the food produced in a ghost kitchen is delivered to the customer, often via a food delivery service such as Seamless, Grub Hub, or Deliveroo.

A ghost kitchen is not necessarily a shared kitchen — a single delivery-only food production space would still be a ghost-kitchen but not a shared kitchen. However, these terms overwhelmingly imply a cluster of ghost kitchens in a single location. And when those tenants make use of common infrastructure (such as refrigeration, dishwashing, or cooking equipment), then they would fall into the category of “shared kitchen".

Regardless of whether they fall under the “shared kitchen” umbrella, multi-unit ghost kitchens tend to be focused on delivery food service with restaurants making up the bulk of their users. The equipment and layouts of these kitchens generally supports this type of user although a food business not requiring a walk-in retail component (such as a small-scale manufacturer) could also operate out of this space.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Cloud Kitchens is also the name a of a prominent ghost-kitchen provided started by uber founder Travis Kalanick.

The Bottom Line

The shared kitchen industry is still in its infancy and the terminology continues to formulate. If you subscribe to a different definition than the ones provided above, that’s fine. However, it’s important to acknowledge that there is currently a lack of consensus on naming conventions and that while terms may be tossed around interchangeably, they can have a specific connotation.

Interstate Commerce and FDA Jurisdiction
Interstate commerce refers to products that cross state lines prior to consumption, or products composed of ingredients that have crossed state lines.

Interstate commerce refers to products that cross state lines prior to consumption, or products composed of ingredients that have crossed state lines.

What is Interstate Commerce?

If a product crosses state lines between the start of the manufacturing process and when it is received by the individual who purchases it, then it has entered "interstate commerce".

Additionally, if the product is composed of ingredients from out-of-state, then it is considered to be a part of "interstate commerce" -- even if the product was created and consumed in state.

The technical definition of interstate commerce is:

"(1) commerce between any State or Territory and any place outside thereof,


(2) commerce within the District of Columbia or within any other Territory not organized with a legislative body."

FD&C Act [21 U.S.C. 321(b)] 

Examples of food that enters interstate commerce:

  • A frozen pizza business that has a website and ships to buyers nationwide.

  • A food processing facility that operates in New York and supplies cookies to bakeries in New Jersey.

  • A distributor that holds food products created by local food producers in a warehouse and distributes them to a local retailer who, in turn, sells them in several states


How Does Interstate Commerce  Relate to the FDA?

Whether a product enters interstate commerce is a major factor in determining whether a food business falls under FDA Jurisdiction. The other major factor is what type of food business it is. 

However, it is worth noting that all domestic facilities that engage in food processing, production, packing, or holding, must register as a Food Facility.

Additionally, the FDA may regulate any product that is adulterated or misbranded, even if that product doesn't enter interstate commerce.

Understanding E. Coli in a Food Processing Context

What is E. Coli?

The Escherichia Coli bacteria shown under a microscope

The Escherichia Coli bacteria shown under a microscope

We all know that E. coli is a threat to human health that is transmitted by food. But what foods specifically? How is it controlled and how can we protect ourselves from it as eaters and food producers?

The Basics:

Escherichia coli is a bacteria that produces a toxin called “Shiga”, that can cause food borne illness and even death.

Associated Foods:

  • Raw ground beef

  • Raw seed sprouts

  • Raw milk

  • Unpasteurized juice

  • Foods contaminated by fecal matter


Human-to-Human or via contaminated food.

Incubation Period: 

Usually 3-4 days after exposure, but it can range from 1-9 days.


  • None (it can be asymptomatic)

  • Diarrhea

  • Bloody Diarrhea

  • Kidney failure

Control Measures (i.e. how we stop it)

  • Cooking food to 155º for 15 seconds will kill E. coli.

  • No bare hand contact with ready-to-eat (RTE) foods

  • Strong employee health policies (i.e. no sick employees handling food)

  • Hand washing

  • Prevention of cross-contamination

  • Pasteurization or treatment of juice

The Bottom Line:

E Coli is a dangerous bacteria that can be transmitted via food and cause tremendous harm. At the same time, it’s something we can control quite easily and, if you are taking appropriate precautions, should not be something to worry about.

If you have more questions about how to control E. coli, ask in the comments section below.