FDA Reader
Simplifying Food Regulation


FDA Reader: Simplifying Food Regulation

Posts tagged shared kitchen
FDA Registration For Shared Kitchens

What are the Requirements for FDA Registration Inside of a Shared Kitchen?

The FDA doesn’t offer a lot of information about shared kitchens. However, the growth of this business model means many shared kitchen operators are looking for answers, particularly around the issue of food facility registration.

Below are the answers you’re looking for.

Does the Shared Kitchen User Need to Register as an FDA Food Facility?

In brief, FDA food facility registration is required for any food business which is (1) not a retail food service establishment and which (2) packs, holds, or processes food which will enter interstate commerce.

When this type of business is operating in a shared kitchen, it means that multiple FDA food facility registrations may be associated with a single location

If you’re looking for more specific answers about registration requirements, we have sections devoted to the topic of FDA jurisdiction and FDA facility registration.

Does The Shared Kitchen Itself Need to Be Registered as an FDA Food Facility?

An FDA Draft Guidance about Shared Kitchen Facility Registration

An FDA Draft Guidance about Shared Kitchen Facility Registration

The question of whether a shared kitchen needs to register with the FDA hinges upon one critical question:

Does the shared kitchen operator (i.e. the host) pack, hold or process any food which will enter interstate commerce? In other words, does the shared kitchen operator ever take custody of any food?

If the answer is yes, then the shared kitchen must register with the FDA as a food facility. If the answer is no, then the shared kitchen does not need to be registered as an FDA food facility.

Here are examples of activities that would require the shared kitchen to register as a food facility with the FDA:

  • The shared kitchen operator receives incoming food products on behalf of the shared kitchen users and hands them over to the tenant when they arrive onsite.

  • The shared kitchen operator purchases a bulk supply of commonly-used food ingredients and sells them to the tenant businesses.

  • The shared kitchen operator purchases finished food products from the users businesses, stores them onsite, and sells them.

  • The management of the shared kitchen also has their own food brand and they manufacture their product out of the shared kitchen alongside other tenants.

Remember, if the shared kitchen packs, holds, or processes food, then they will be required to register with the FDA.

If you want to avoid registering your shared kitchen with the FDA, then you should never take physical control over any food products in your space.

If you allow tenant businesses to store product in a shared storage space onsite, it must be clear that the tenant business maintains possession of that product while it is in storage.

What’s Next

If you need to register as a food facility you can check out our step-by-step guide.

Also, if your business does less than $1mm in annual sales, then you may be a Qualified Facility (aka Very Small Business). This means fewer record keeping requirements for the business and a lower likelihood of inspection within the first several years of operation. If you think this is for you, then check out our guide to registering as a Qualified Facility

Or, return to our section on Shared Kitchens

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.

What You Need to Know Before Joining an Incubator Kitchen

As incubator kitchens (commonly known as "shared-kitchens" or "commissary kitchens") pop up at an unprecedented rate, little attention has been paid to the regulation of these multiple tenant food processing facilities.

In this presentation to the Central Atlantic States Association of Food and Drug Officials, Ned Klein explains the regulatory landscape surrounding this business model and how food businesses and shared kitchen operators alike can protect themselves.

Bottom Line: FSMA has a severe impact on shared kitchens operate. For more about FSMA and food businesses, check out our detailed FSMA Guide