I’m always nervous the night before our Vinegar Brewery is officially inspected. 

I shouldn’t be nervous, because we’ve been inspected by the Federal Department of Agriculture (FDA) and the Virginia Department of Agriculture Consumer Services (VDACS) annually for the last six years with no problems. 

Inspections are a bit nerve-wracking, but I think food safety is important and the government inspectors are doing an important job. 

The Vinegar Brewery must be clean of course, and all the cleaning supplies must be food-grade.  In our Brewery, the walls are white and washable, the floors easy to clean and all the containers and utensils are either made of glass or stainless steel.  Everything is designed to eliminate bad germs.  I was also required to take a “Food Manufacturing Safety” course taught by the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

The hard part is keeping up-to-date records of everything that happens in the Vinegary all year! 

I must keep a record of what I sell and who I sell it to – so there is a paper trail in case of a recall.  And I must have a formal, “Food Recall Plan” approved by the FDA.   I am required to keep records of how often I calibrate the Ph. Meter; when my water supply is tested, and written details on every aspect of our operation from apple harvest to bottling – dates & times; etc., etc. 

Then there’s documentation of my annual business license, yearly “Certified Naturally Grown” certification, annual IRS incorporation documents, and receipts for any purchases.  I also need to account for all the hard cider I brew that I convert into vinegar; just to be sure that we’re not selling alcohol without a license (we don't sell hard cider).

Whew!  That’s a lot of paperwork!  When all I really want to do is to handcraft the best apple cider vinegar in the world.  But, Like I said, food safety is important.  If that means I must get inspected once a year, then I’ll gladly do my part to ensure that Rockbridge Cider Vinegar is up to FDA and VDACS food safety standards.