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Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is a bit different than other states in that it doesn’t have laws specific to cottage food operations, but the Department of Agriculture simply allows “limited food establishments” that meet specific guidelines. The application process is lengthy, but limited food establishments have a lot of flexibility once they’re setup.

Unlike other states, in Pennsylvania, there are many similarities between the registration process for limited food establishments and other food processors. The fee to register is only $35, but the startup costs could be greater since certain types of products require lab testing. The establishment must also create a business plan and get their home inspected before getting approved. One notable restriction is that pets are not ever allowed in the parts of the home where the establishment operates.

Once they’re registered, establishments have a lot of freedom in running their business. Pennsylvania allows more types of food than most states, and it is the only state to allow meat jerky to be produced from the home. Establishments can sell anywhere they want (including interstate), and there is no limit on the amount they can sell.

Selling

Allowed Foods

Prohibited Foods

Certain items require lab testing (mostly canned foods and drinks) — check the application for more details.

Chocolate-covered fruits may only be sold if the fruit has a pH of 4.6 or below (like strawberries or apples).

There are special rules and guidelines for producing honey.

Only "non-potentially hazardous" foods are allowed, but certain non-PHFs may not be allowed. Most foods that don't need to be refrigerated (foods without meat, cheese, etc.) are considered non-potentially hazardous. Learn more

Limitations

Limitations
There is no sales limit

Interstate sales are allowed.

Pets are ONLY allowed in your home if you can completely prevent them from accessing the parts of it where you operate your business. You cannot carry any ingredients or products through an area that pets can access, and your kitchen, storage, and prep areas must be completely shut off from them. If you can’t guarantee that your pets will be precluded from those parts of your home, then you can’t run a limited food establishment. Caged pets (birds, snakes, etc.) that are kept away from the kitchen are allowed.

Business

Registration

To get registered, establishments must submit an application, which asks for all the types of food products that will be produced by the business. Before registering, certain products must be tested in a lab to determine their safety when left at room temperature, like jams, jellies, preserves, salsa, hot sauces, and other questionable items. In addition to testing, the establishment must also document formulas and procedures for these products, and in some cases, also include a process flow with the application.

In addition to that, all limited food establishments must complete a “plan review application”. This is a written plan that includes many details about the business:

  • Who supplies each ingredient
  • How equipment and food will be stored
  • What equipment will be used while producing the products
  • What methods will be used when producing the foods, including packaging
  • How the products will be transported
  • What venues will be used for selling the products
  • Where the goods will be sold (a list of specific locations)

Beyond the plan review, the application requires a number of other pieces of information about the business, like number of employees, working hours, tax documentation, and product labels.

Home inspection

After the application is submitted, an official will schedule a home inspection. Once approved, a registration fee of $35 (renewed annually) is due and the establishment can start their business.

Private well testing

If the kitchen’s water supply comes from a private well, it must be tested annually, which would incur an extra fee.

The approval process could take up to 60 days to complete.

Labeling

Sample Label

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Forrager Cookie Company

123 Chewy Way, Cookietown, PA 73531


Ingredients: enriched flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), butter (cream, salt), semi-sweet chocolate (sugar, chocolate, cocoa butter, milkfat, soy lecithin, natural flavors), brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, vanilla extract (vanilla bean extract, alcohol, sugar), baking soda, salt (salt, calcium silicate)


Contains: milk, eggs, wheat, soy


NET WT 2 lb 4 oz (1.02 kg)


Nutritional info is necessary when shipping interstate, or when making health claims on the label (e.g. low fat, sugar free, etc).

Some bakery items do not require labeling, but it must be available to the consumer if requested.  Some items like this would be unpackaged items, like wedding cakes, or products sold to a restaurant and consumed on their premises.

If your acidified food or drink product has a final pH level at or above 4.0, then every batch must be checked with a pH meter. Also, a log must be kept of production date, batch number, pH level, and corrective actions taken to adjust the pH level. If your acidified product has a pH level below 4.0, then you must check the pH level at least four times throughout the year. If your acidified product has a pH level above 4.4, then you need to get special approval from a Process Authority. Check the application for more details.

Workplace

Ingredients for the business must be kept separate from those for personal use.

Resources

Contacts

Abdellah Elhajjam

Job Title
Program Manager
Organization
Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
Email
[email protected]
Telephone
717-772-5208

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Comments

Can you do this out of an apartment? Would you need to let your landlord know that you are using their property for commercial reasons?

Hello

I have three questions.

First do you have resources or information on selling vanilla extract in pa?
Second I have an/office studio space, there is a kitchen shared with the other artists. Curious if this would work?
This item does not require a kitchen to make it so curious how that is handled?

Thanks
Lunden

    1. I’m not sure if vanilla extract would be okay to produce from home. You need to contact the ag dept for your application anyway, so you should ask them. It’s not on the list, but I think the biggest problem they’d have with it is that it is mostly alcohol, and there may be special laws for selling alcohol. Contact Sheri Morris at 717-787-5289.
    2. You would not be able to use a communal kitchen. The kitchen you use must be in the place where you live.
    3. I know the process mostly involves storage, but the minimal preparation you do need to do would need to be done in the kitchen (preparing bottles, cutting vanilla, etc.). If you can’t do it at home, it would need to be done in a commercial kitchen.

Hi David,
This seems kind of silly – but I have a tortoise. He’s a relatively small tortoise, about the size of a dinner plate. Would having him in the house disqualify me for having a home-based bakery?

    Technically, you would not be able to have a home-based bakery with him indoors. This is what the application packet says: “No animals/pets are permitted in the home at any time.” But yes, that’s pretty silly… silly enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if the ag department made an exception for you — you should contact Sheri Morris at 717-787-5289. I’ve never heard of anyone being allergic to a tortoise!

Just wanted to make sure I understand correctly. As long as you don’t have pets you are allowed to use your home kitchen to make, bake items you want to sale as long as you aren’t preparing personally items at the same time? Also about small children not being allowed in the kitchen. Most of my baking takes place when my little ones are asleep or in school, but if I needed to bake something on a day that they may be home does that mean in order to pass inspection I have to have some sort of gate that pretty much stops them from being able to come into the kitchen? Also all baking supplies have to be kept away from home/personal supplies? My basement is suitable for someone to live in if I wanted to rent it, do you know if you are allowed to store items in the basement as long as it’s stored properly and on shelves?

    Yes, you can make your items from your home kitchen. Some states require you to have some form of barrier to let your kids know they can’t come into the kitchen. I saw one baker in Washington that did this by simply moving some chairs in front of the kitchen. I’m not sure what your inspector will require.

    As long as nobody is sleeping there, your basement should be okay to store supplies, as long as you are storing items off the ground. I can’t be sure that PA considers your basement a part of the home, but you can ask your inspector about it.

I have two questions: If I have use of a commercial kitchen is there other certifications I need to have to sell jams and jellies in wineries?
Are there any regulations on making homemade dog treats?

    If you have use of a commercial kitchen and you don’t mind using it, I’d strongly recommend considering getting a standard food license instead of a starting a home business. Most people start businesses from home because of convenience and cost. If you are setup as a home food business, you would actually not be able to produce your items from the commercial kitchen. To use the commercial kitchen, you’d need the other licenses anyway. In terms of what those licenses are, I’m not exactly sure, but I’d recommend contacting your agriculture department to learn more.

    I have not yet seen a state allow homemade pet treats, but I can’t be 100% certain that PA would say no, since I haven’t asked them myself. Again, it is likely that you would need a commercial license to produce these… yet another reason to go that route.

I have pets but they are not allowed in the kitchen at anytime when I am cooking….does that mean I will not be able to sell from my home? I am sorry to say if the PA Dept of Agr. did research in my county alone they would find several people who sell all kinds of baked goods out of there home that have pets and they are in no way outdoor animals. I know several of these people myself….this law needs to be changed or ammended.

    Roxanne, you are right that just having pets anywhere in your home prevents you from making food in your home kitchen and selling it. It is also understandable that you are frustrated… illegal home bakers are very common, but they are illegal nonetheless, and they could get shut down at any time. If you do not want to join them, then you will need to make your items out of a commercial kitchen if you want to keep pets in your home.

Hello, I am just beginning to set up my cottage food business in PA. I have animals in my home so I found a commercial kitchen for rent in a neighboring town. They require a license from the city as well as liability insurance. Would this be allowable, and would the Dept. of Ag still do an inspection of the facility? Thanks for your time, this site has been invaluable to me.

    Usually these cottage food laws do not apply to someone using a commercial kitchen. I’m not sure about PA specifically, but this is probably the case. However, getting a commercial kitchen is usually the largest hindrance to someone starting a food business. If you already have one and use one, you might consider just going for a full food processor license.

Hi, I am interested in preparing hot sauce in a separate kitchen I have built in my basement. I have cats on the main floor of my house, but they do not have access to the basement level. Will I be disqualified since there are animals?

    Well, technically, this would not be allowed, but it will be the Ag Department that makes the final determination. You have a special case and if I were you, I’d definitely call them and see what they say.

    Joseph, you would probably only be able to do the prep at home, but the Department of Agriculture would really be the ones that would know. Mobile kitchens that prepare food in different locations usually fall under different laws.

    You can contact Sheri Morris from the Ag Dept at 717-787-5289.

Hello,

I work seasonally in a family business selling chocolate and chocolate-covered items and I’ve been trying to research to see if I could expand to actually supplement my income. 1. what are the rules for online sales, and would I require one of these basic licences and inspections before doing so? and 2. I have 3 dogs – will this disqualify me during my home inspections?

What should I expect, and what are their expectations? Any assistance you could provide would be GREATLY appreciated.

Thank you!
Brad

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