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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?

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.

If you only want to sell fresh fruit and vegetables that you grow your self, see this page Pennsylvania: Selling Fresh, Unprocessed Vegetables and Fruit from Your Garden

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, chow-chow, pickled beets, and BBQ sauce).etc.
  • Fermented foods (e.g., Korean kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, green olives, 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,
  • tortes,
  • Creams and custards,
  • meringue pies and pastries,
  • meat-filled products, etc.
  • In general, most products that would require temperature control of the finished product.

Potentially hazardous (TCS foods) may only be made in a completely separate approved kitchen under the full regulations not the limited food establishment rule.

 

If you want to make and sell acidified foods:

  • You must have written recipes (or formulas) and procedures.
  • You must provide a process flow for products, and have it approved by the food inspector prior to registration and sale of product.
  • If you are unsure if the product is considered an acid, acidified or fermented food, discuss with the food inspector.
  • For further information review PDA information on this page: Pennsylvania Limited Food Establishments.

The PDA Regional Food Sanitarian/Supervisor reviews the application and notifies you of its approval/disapproval. PDA supports seven regional offices across the Commonwealth. Inquiries about regulations and to speak with a regional Food Sanitarian can be directed to the appropriate PDA Regional Office.

More information and resources for start-up food businesses are available in Penn State's Food Entrepreneurs article .

 

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 commercial 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.
  • Acid foods are foods that have a natural pH of 4.6 or below.
  • Low-acid foods have an equilibrium pH above 4.6 and water activity above 0.85.
  • Acidified foods are defined by the FDA as low-acid foods to which acid(s) (vinegar or lemon juice) or acid food(s) are added, and which have a finished equilibrium pH of 4.6 or below and a water activity (aw) greater than 0.85.
  • "Juice" means the liquid expressed from one or more fruits or vegetables and includes purees of the edible portions of one or more fruits or vegetables, or any concentrates of such liquid or puree (see 21 CFR 120.1). The regulations differ depending on whether the producer of the juice sells it directly to end consumers or offers it for wholesale distribution.

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.
  • No other activities:  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.
  •  Separation - 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

Selling juices is more complicated.

  • Juice producers who sell only retail.
    Juice processors who sell their own processed product directly to consumers (no wholesale activity and no custom processing) are not required to process the juice under a HACCP system as required by 21 CFR 120 juice regulation. However, packaged fruit and vegetable juice produced in an LFE is subject to certain food labeling regulations that require a warning statement to be applied on the juice packages stating that the juice has not been pasteurized or otherwise treated to prevent, reduce, or eliminate pathogenic microorganisms. Juice producers who produce from an LFE must have their products tested for pH to determine if the product is non-TCS (pH < 4.6 or lower). Note that the product may only be sold directly to the consumer from the production site or a satellite of the production site, such as a farmers market or roadside stand owned by the producer. In most cases, if the product is sold from the production site in packaged form, only a food registration is needed. However, any retail location would need to be evaluated to determine if a retail food license would also be needed.
  • Juice producers who sell any or all of their product wholesale.
    Wholesale juice sales, as defined by the federal government in 21 CFR 120.1(a), are subject to the requirements of the juice HACCP regulation. Any juice of this type must be pasteurized or otherwise processed using an approved and verified process that can achieve a 5-log reduction of pertinent micro-organisms and is operating under a HACCP plan. Juice of this nature typically cannot be produced in a limited food establishment. Residential-style kitchens would not typically have the required equipment to obtain a 5-log pathogen reduction.

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.

Training

Take the ServSafe® training classes for Manager and employees, the 7th Edition Book that accompanies this course should be purchased here.. 

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

You should absolutely do/havethe 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
  • Stefanie Smith,
    Chief, Division of Food Safety Policy & Programs
    [email protected]   
    (717) 787-5108
  • Christopher Marlowe
    Program Specialist
    [email protected]
     (717)743-4031

 


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