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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

I am in the process of setting up a home based bakery based on the limited food establishment. I filed my llc paperwork and received approval from my township. Now I am working on my application for the Dept. of Ag. However, knowing that we have dogs, we had to do some modifications to our kitchen. We added two doors to keep the dogs out, and the food will be brought into the house using the side door which goes directly into the kitchen. We have a separate entrance that can be used to take the dogs in and out. The dogs will never come in contact with the food or kitchen. Prior to doing this, I contacted the county that serves my area for food inspection, and spoke to their supervisor who said “it shouldn’t be a problem but would depend on the individual inspector.” On the application for the Dept. of Ag, there s a section you have to check to certify, there are no pets. I am wondering how I answer this? Do I write see attachment and include a statement of how the dogs will never be in the kitchen or ? Also, as I read through the comments here, would I be able to transport the food items in my vehicle which also at times transports my dogs? I have been trying to figure out a work around this one.
Lastly, if the kitchen inspection would not pass due to the dogs, am I able to convert my very small, attached garage to a second kitchen, and still qualify under limited food establishment?
Thanks!

    From what I’ve heard, you should be able to pass the inspection due to the modifications you made. I don’t know the “correct” way to complete the application, but I personally would check the box because there are no pets ever allowed in your food establishment, which is the portion of the home that you use for your business. Speaking of which, a food establishment usually also includes the vehicle used for transportation, so I don’t think your inspector is going to be okay with the dogs using the car too. If you don’t have two vehicles to use, one workaround might be always putting the dogs in the back and preventing them from accessing the front, and always transporting your products in the front, or vice versa. I don’t know if that would be acceptable, but it’s an idea.

    Update: I thought I would provide an update as I just talked to the dept. of ag. I spoke to my inspector directly, and he agreed the modifications would be sufficient. I would need to write out in my application when I spoke to him and to the supervisor, and that I am guaranteeing the dogs would not be in the kitchen area ever.

    I also asked him about transporting the food items in my vehicle that also has transported dogs. He recommended that the food items be kept in sealed containers. I told him cupcakes would be in plastic containers or boxes then in bags. Same with cookies etc. This was also deemed sufficient as there is no direct contact with food to dog hair, dander etc. On a side note, I would obviously vacuum my vehicle prior to transport as well. I drive an SUV, and the food items would be in the back, where the dogs do not go.

    I love updates like this… often I make suggestions and never hear how it turned out, so thanks! It’s nice that your inspector considers sealed containers to be sufficient for vehicle transport. It seems that the ag dept in PA is a lot more practical than ag and health depts in many other states.

I would like to start a candy making business in my home. I have no pets. How do I get a liscense to sell my candy.

I would like to make an ethnic cuisine in my home kitchen and sell it to the customer in Pittsburgh , but I do not know where I should to go to start and what to do to start my business

Do you know the rules of I wanted to by prepackaged spice and dip mixes for resale with my own label. Does PA allow that and what would be the steps to get it started. Thanks

Hello I want to rent a separate establishment to bake out of so I can sell my cookies. Would I need to submit a pa limited establishment food application and be inspected as well? Would you advise on how to proceed.

    Is this because you have pets at home? If you cannot use your home kitchen, then you don’t need to apply to become a limited food establishment. Contact the health or ag dept for an application for a commercial food establishment.

    So would I have to apply for a commercial food establishment license or a business license? I see underneath the info here there is a section on Business and submitting an application should I follow that route? And I don’t have pets now but have kids and we plan on getting another pet.

    You will likely need to apply for both. You can disregard all of the info on this page, which is specifically for someone using their home kitchen to produce products.

    PA does allow out-of-state sales, but NJ doesn’t even allow their own residents to sell homemade food, so I wouldn’t expect them to allow sales from any cottage food operations. You should contact the ag dept in the NJ county you want to sell in.

    I’m not sure if the ag dept continues to inspect you once you’re approved. At most, it would be once a year, probably around the time you re-register. Usually unannounced visits only occur when there is a food safety complaint.

Thank you so much for tracking all this down and posting it. I was just wondering where to begin! Your page here was the first to come up in the search, not event the AG department popped up on the results page.

Are perogi considered a perishable baked good? I feel like I already know the answer but wanted to make sure before I submitted an application

    Never mind! I just read through the previous posts and saw that anything that needs refrigerated does not qualify. Sorry about that!

Is it necessary to become licensed and inspected to “repackage” an item into single serve sample packets? The item is protein powder and permission has already been granted from the manufacturer of the product. The single serve sample packets would be packaged in heat-sealed plastic packets, labeled the same as the original product that is sold in 2 lb containers and sold online and/or given out as samples.

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