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Pennsylvania Cottage Food (Limited Food Establishments) Laws and Regulations: How to sell your homemade foods in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Cottage Food Laws, Regulations and Facts

"Limited Food Establishments"

Pennsylvania is different from other states in that there is no explicit Cottage Foods law.  Instead, the PA Department of Agriculture has a category called "limited food establishments" that meet specific guidelines that provides flexibility once they're set up. There is a registration process with a $35 fee to register but some types of products require lab testing. A business plan and an inspection of the home is also required prior to approval. In addition, pets are never allowed in the parts of the home where the food establishment operates. Read on for more details.

Which foods are subject to the Pennsylvania Cottage Food law?

Under the PA cottage food law, there are certain types of low risk food products that may be produced and sold out of your home kitchen with no inspection or licensing requirements.

Generally,the types of production that can occur in 'limited food establishments' (whether an actual home-use kitchen or a kitchen designed in a residential fashion) are limited to foods that are not 'time and temperature controlled for safety' (TCS) foods (i.e., potentially hazardous foods, 'PHF'). TCS foods are foods that will support the growth of pathogenic microorganisms and require temperature controls (kept hot or cold). TCS foods can only be produced in a licensed / registered 'commercial' food establishment kitchen that meets the full regulatory code requirements, including separation from residential-use areas, and adequate plumbing fixtures. This does not specifically prohibit processing of TCS foods from a residential property, but the foods could only be produced in a second 'commercial' processing kitchen separate from the private home kitchen or any residential personal use areas, and that meets the full regulatory standards for a food establishment.

Non-potentially hazardous foods that may be processed in a home kitchen may include:

  • Bakery Products like Cakes, fruit pies, breads, rolls, brownies, cookies, fruit pastries, muffins, etc.
  • Canned naturally acidic foods (apples, peaches, lemons, etc. )
  • Jams and Jellies - Fruit varieties, etc.
  • Acidified Foods (Equilibrium pH of 4.6 or lower) such as Salsa, pickled vegetables, hot sauces, etc.
  • Candy: Lollipops, fudge, chocolate, rock candy, hard candy, etc.

Potentially-Hazardous Foods

Potentially hazardous foods may be prepared in a home, if processed in a kitchen other than what is used for home-use and the facility has its own outside entrance. For safety, time and/or temperature controls are needed to limit pathogen growth or toxin formation in potentially hazardous foods. Potentially hazardous foods may include, but not limited to, any of the following products:

  • low-acid canned foods (e.g., corn, beans, soups, and vegetable mixtures) , foods with a ph above 4.6,
  • Cheesecakes,
  • layer cakes with fresh fruit,
  • cheese-filled products,
  • pumpkin pies,
  • custard pies,
  • meringue pies,
  • meat-filled products, etc.
  • In general, most products that would require temperature control of the finished product.

 

TCS Foods

Home manufacturing of "temperature control for safety" (TCS) foods, also known as potentially hazardous foods (PHFs), is permitted only if prepared in a separate kitchen used only for this purpose. Because of their high moisture and low acid content, TCS foods can become unsafe to eat if they are not kept refrigerated. TCS food examples include milk or other dairy products, eggs, meat, and cooked pasta or vegetables. Pennsylvania regulations forbid the manufacture of TCS foods in a dual-use home kitchen. Instead, you will need to construct a completely separate kitchen that is used only for your food business. Keep in mind that no PHF products may pass through or be stored in the home at any time; therefore, you may need to construct separate entrances and exits to food processing and storage areas. Ask a PDA sanitarian for more information if you decide to make TCS products in your home.

Making TCS foods in a commcerial licensed kitchen

It is more complicated, but there are resources that will help. See this page for much more information.

Definitions:

  • "Limited food processor" or 'residential-style kitchen' means a home-style kitchen, residential style kitchen or a personal use kitchen, regardless of the location - on or off an actual residential property.

Application and Registration process

Anyone wishing to prepare food from home or home style kitchen must fill out a completed "PA Application for a Limited Food Establishment". Among other things, it wants details like the number of employees, working hours, tax documentation, and, recipe and food product labels.Please allow 3 to 5 weeks for processing.

Because only limited types of food may be prepared from the home or home - style kitchen and in some cases laboratory testing of the product must occur, it is necessary to closely evaluate these businesses. It may additionally be necessary for those facilities wishing to sell their products interstate to register with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). More detailed information on Limited Food Establishments is layed out in the Application Packet.

The Limited Food Processor Application must be submitted to the department as soon as possible. There is no money required for the Application/Plan Review process.

 

Where may Cottage Food Production Operations sell the food products?

Cottage Food Products Establishments can sell anywhere they want (including interstate), and there is no limit on the amount they can sell.

Other requirements

Limited Food processors are regulated under The Food Safety Act (3 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 5721 - 5737).  Regulations under this Act include all federal regulations related to food, and can be found in Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulation (CFR's).  CFR's can be accessed at www.ecfr.gov.  In some cases, businesses may additionally be regulated under PA Code Title 7, Chapter 46, Food Code (if products are retailed direct to consumers from the business).

  • A business plan and an inspection of the home is required prior to approval.
  • Pets are never allowed in the parts of the home where the food establishment operates.
  • Children and infants are not permitted in the kitchen area during the processing for retail sale and/or wholesale business.
  •  When processing for retail sale and/or wholesale business, no other activities may take place in the kitchen area, such as family meal preparation, etc.
  •  All ingredients, equipment and supplies for the retail and/or wholesale food business must be kept separate from what is used for home-use. A separate drawer, shelf, cabinet, pantry shelf, etc. may be used. All ingredients, equipment and supplies must be properly stored and maintained.

To sell Canned Foods (as described above) - you must:

  • have written recipes/formulas and procedure;
  • provide a process flow for your products and have it approved by your sanitarian prior to registration and sale of your product.  Check with the PDA sanitarian to make sure you are following all state and federal regulations before you start canning.
  • prove that the product equilibrium pH is 4.6 or lower  within 24 hours of processing by having it tested at an independent commercial laboratory. T
  • use new canning lids each time.
  • Reused jars must be thoroughly washed and sanitized before filling.
  • You may also be required to register and file your process with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

To sell Jams, Jellies, Conserves, Preserves, etc.
You must also:

  • document and adhere to all written procedures and formulas. Although pH testing is not required, these products must be tested at a commercial laboratory to make sure they meet quality standards for soluble solids content. Requirements for new lids and sanitization of used jars are the same as described above. Fruit butters, preserves, artificially sweetened fruit jelly, each have specific standards of identity and soluble solid requirements. Conserves, marmalades, and "spreads" do not have standards of identity and do not require soluble solids testing.

Home-made Candies

  • Candies with very low water content, hard candies such as lollipops, candy canes, and rock candy are not considered TCS foods and can therefore be commercially prepared in dual-use home kitchens.
  • Chocolate-covered fruits may not be made from a limited food establishment unless the fruit in the candy has a pH of 4.6 or below (for example, lemons, oranges, apples, strawberries). If you aren't certain, you must  use a pH test performed to determine acidity levels. H
  • Cream-filled chocolates, fudge, or candied fruits - since the amount of moisture available for microbial growth can vary widely depending on the recipe the PDA may require you to have your product tested for water activity at a commercial laboratory to determine if refrigerated storage is necessary.

Juices and beverages

These are more complicated.

Philadelphia

Philly has additional requirements. call 215-685-7495 or use walk-in hours at the Office of Food Protection, 321 University Avenue, 2nd Floor, Monday - Friday 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Labeling requirementsPennsylvania Limited Food Establishment label

Although PA does not spell it out, foods sold by a cottage food production operation should be properly packaged and labeled. The food must be packaged in a manner that prevents product contamination, except for foods that are too large and or bulky for conventional packaging. Food labels should include the following information:

  •  Producer's name and address
  •  Ingredients of food product
  •  Net weight and volume
  • The common or usual name of the product, if a food is made with a major food allergen, such as eggs, nuts, soy, peanuts, milk or wheat that ingredient must be listed on the label; and
  • The labels must be legible.

Here is a free Microsoft Word label template which you can download and edit.  These labels are already formatted to fit on Avery Template 22820  Print-to-the-Edge Oval, Labels 2" x 3-1/3", 8 per Sheet, Glossy White. You can get the label stock online (see at right). 

Depending on the size of your business, your label must comply with Federal label regulations and with the new nutritional labeling law. You can download a copy of the FDA Food Labeling Guide here it s an illustrated booklet that should answer all your questions.

Recommendations:

Beyond the requirements, common sense, good practices and reducing liability suggests you should do the following.

Testing of pH

​It's best to use a pH meter, properly calibrated on the day used. I use this one, which is reliable and inexpensive. And this pH meter is really good, but isn't always available.
Short-range paper pH test strips, commonly known as litmus paper, may be used instead, if the product normally has a pH of 4.0 or lower and the paper's range includes a pH of 4.6.

Record-keeping is suggested

Keep a written record of every batch of product made for sale, including:

  • ​Recipe, including procedures and ingredients
  • Amount canned and sold
  • Canning date
  • Sale dates and locations
  • Gross sales receipts
  • Results of any pH test

Sanitation

Although iInspections are not required, you should consider doing the following:

  • ​Use clean equipment that has been effectively sanitized prior to use
  • Clean work surfaces and then sanitize with bleach water before and after use
  • Keep ingredients separate from other unprocessed foods
  • Keep household pets out of the work area
  • Keep walls and floors clean
  • Have adequate lighting
  • Keep window and door screens in good repair to keep insects out
  • Wash hands frequently while working
  • Consider annual testing of water if using a private well

More resources:

Questions? Contact Information:

  • Bureau of Food Safety
    (717) 787-4315
  • Sheri Morris
    Chief, Division of Food Safety Policy & Programs
    (717) 787-5289
    [email protected]
  • Abdellah El Hajjam
    Program Specialist
    (717) 772-5208
    [email protected]