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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

    Because you’re simply selling produce, I don’t think you would need to become a limited food establishment. Selling raspberries should be pretty easy, without many or any licenses needed, but I don’t know if freezing them changes the requirements. You should contact your ag dept for more info.

I have a new company that has dried fruit as part of the product. The fruit is bought fresh from the store, thinly sliced, and then completely dehydrated in house. Will I need any license to sell either online or at a trade show?

I’m looking to start an online-based crock pot club, where a. you get recipes and crock pot tips and b. get crock pot meals delivered for your family. I, and other ‘chefs’ prepare crock pot meals in their homes for up to 10 club members and hand deliver them. Is there away around the PHF’s rule because it is a club? …where members register to be part of the club and agree to the terms of food preparations, etc. ?? The members are signing up/paying to be in the club, not for the food…necessarily. thoughts?

    The “B” part of your plan is definitely not going to be allowed in any way, if you’re trying to use residential kitchens. If you want to stay legal, your best bet would be to find a commercial kitchen that you could rent/use and discuss this with the health dept to determine the best way to produce the meals for club members.

I would like to start a jerky business from my home shop; not attached to the home, but same property. Would that be considered acceptable? I see on the faq page that if done outside of the home, it was a different issue, i.e. a church kitchen or similar would require a different type of license.
Thanks for your time and this site.

I am interested in starting a home-based bakery, but I have a dog. I know the regulation says pets are not permitted to be around the area where the product is being produced, which is understandable. However, she does not have access to the area that I would be using to bake. In fact, there are two doors that would keep her located in the other part of the house. Would the doors be considered keeping her out of the area? Or would I not be able to have the home-based bakery at all since she is in the house?

    As long as she is never in any area that is related to your food business, then she’s allowed to be in the house. She must be permanently blocked (doors should be fine) at all times from your kitchen, storage areas used for your business, and any pathways you use to transport products/ingredients/equipment in and out of the house.

I would like to start a cookie decorating Business from my home to sell on line and at events. Where do I find all the home requirements for the licensing process and will it get really involved just for cookies? Thanks

I’m interested in selling home made ice cream, made to order online. Aside from licensing, would I need to have the food tested and my home inspected?

If I’m making baked goods out of my home for only family and friends and only charging them the cost of the materials, do I still need a license? For example, my mom hates making apple pies. If she asks me to make two, and only pays me for the ingredients, do I need a license?

    Yes, you still need a license. However, it’s possible for your mom to give you the ingredients instead, and then you wouldn’t need a license. If someone is handing you money for your goods, you’re running a business.

    So even though I’m not making a profit off of that I would still need a license? That doesn’t make much sense.

    Many businesses do not turn a profit for years, if ever, but that doesn’t mean they’re exempt from licensing. Think of it more as “engaged in commerce”, since you’re trading goods for money, though you may not be “making” money.

Pennsylvania is always one of the most restrictive in freedoms. Why must they regulate everything? Almost every other state has seen the light and decreased the burdens to get started on a home business. Why can’t these laws be changed??

    Perhaps they are restrictive in other areas of government, but PA is actually one of the least restrictive states in terms of homemade food allowances. They actually allow shipping to other states, and they are the only state that allows beek jerky. I’ve actually heard from people who talked about moving to PA just to be able to start their cottage food business with more freedom. So while I agree that all laws across the states could definitely be more relaxed, you do have a lot to be grateful for by living in Pennsylvania.

I make gourmet apples and was asked to join some fall festivals and sell them there, I am not sure what kind of licensure i would require, the only equiptment I use is a microwave to heat the chocolaates and caramel all of my ingredients are made by companies, i simply heat them to add to apple

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