Pennsylvania cottage food laws are not written yet, although they have what they call a limited food establishment program. This allows you to make and bake foods from your home kitchen.
The process to get started requires more effort than many states but within about 3 to 4 weeks, you can be up and running. The majority of that time is waiting on them to process your application.
Unlike many states, PA allows sales online, mail order, retail stores, restaurants along with the standard methods.
Table of Contents
HOW TO START YOUR COTTAGE FOOD BUSINESS IN PENSYLVANIA – LICENSING
To start your cottage food business in Pennsylvania, follow these steps:
STEPS TO START
Always contact your local city / county office and verify if a business license is required prior to starting.
This is simply done by calling the main number to your city and letting them know you are starting a cottage food business and ask if you need a business license.
- Testing: Foods where the average acidity (pH) levels vary like jams, jellies, preserves, salsa, hot sauces and others will require testing before you can even begin the application process. (see Acidity Levels and Testing section below)
List of PA approved testing labs
You can speed things up if you avoid those types of products and start off with food products that generally are shelf stable at room temperatures.
- Plan Review Application: This is where you write down the detailed process of making the foods you wish to make. A plan review includes:
- Source / Supplier of ingredients
- How you will store equipment and food
- What equipment you use during production
- What methods will be used during production, including packaging
- How you will transport any products
- Where you will be selling your products
This may seem hard or even overwhelming, but what business can you start from home, make a real income and only invest a little time and patience?
The plan review portion will ask for other information about your new business, like number of employees, tax documentation, working hours among others.
NOTE: Our tax dollars are responsible for these folks salaries. Don’t ever hesitate to contact them, ask question, get clarification and ask for help as you fill out your application.
NEED HELP: Call Christopher Here: (717) 772-5208 or Robert Here: (717) 787-5107
3. Home Inspection: After you submit your application, they will schedule a home inspection with you. Once approved, you’ll pay a registration fee of $35 (renewed annually) and then you can start your business.
You fill out the application just like you eat an elephant… one bite at a time.
4. Well Water Testing: Like most states, if your home uses well water, you’ll be required to have the water tested.
5. Food Labels: PA requires you label all food products. See Labeling below for more.
FIND AN ERROR – GET A SPECIAL GIFT
If you find an error, omission, mistake, broken link, any outdated information or an addition that we missed – simply email me at [email protected] a link to the page and any information and I’ll send you something awesome.
PENNSYLVANIA COTTAGE FOOD LAWS – Foods That Are Allowed
Spices & Seasonings
Jams & jellies
Crackers & Pretzels
Nuts & seeds
If the food item(s) you wish to make aren’t on this list, you can contact (717) 772-5208 and ask if it would still be allowed.
Real Life Cottage Food Entrepreneurs and Opportunities
- Cakes – teacher turns kitchen into bakery
- Doughnuts – cottage mini donut vendor
- Fruit jams and jellies – additional information here
- Kettle corn – real kettle corn vendors from home
- Popcorn (plain and flavored) – see a real home vendor here
- Talk and Join hundreds of others here: VendorsUnited.com
PENNSYLVANIA COTTAGE FOOD LAWS – PROHIBITED FOODS
- Perishable (requires temperature controls) Baked Goods
NOTE: Although eggs, milk and dairy products are not allowed, used as ingredients for the allowed foods – is acceptable.
Many prohibited foods that are baked or cooked into the allowed foods are rendered harmless (non-TCS) and therefore allowed.
PENNSYLVANIA ANNUAL SALES LIMITS
Most states set a cap on what you’re allowed to make annually.
Pennsylvania has no cap or limit set on what you are allowed to earn. No sales limits!
This is usually put in place to push you towards opening a full-fledged retail business while at the same time letting you start from home.
Below is what the state of Colorado puts out to help folks wanting to go beyond cottage foods.
Colorado created a brochure on going beyond cottage food once you’ve outgrown or hit your maximum allowed income.
I have provided it here for a resource as you grow your business and wish to expand.
ACIDITY LEVELS AND TESTING
Most states determine if a food is non-potentially hazardous by the acidity level found in the food. The higher the acidity, the more stable at a range of temps, that food product is.
For example: milk is low acidity and requires temperature controls.
The acidity of foods is measured by pH.
• The range of pH is commonly considered to extend from zero to 14. A pH value of 7 is neutral because pure water has a pH value of exactly 7.
Values less than 7 are considered acidic, while those greater than 7 are considered basic or alkaline.
• All fruits are acidic foods and are usually tart and sour. Ex: tomato, lemon, peach, apple, etc.
• The FDA rule for acidic foods states that a food must have a pH below 4.6 to be sold as a minimally processed food
• The reason for this is bacteria does not grow at this level of acidity.
• The exclusion shall not be construed as allowing the sale of low acid foods (pH > 4.6) i
hermetically sealed containers (i.e. home-canned green beans, peas, etc.) when such
food is not prepared in a permitted establishment.
Some states require testing if the pH level is unknown.
For many food products, the pH level is already known. You can test for pH yourself using a pH spear tester. (make sure it is made for food and has a long spear tip).
Oklahoma State University shares an awesome guide for selecting the correct tester for foods and liquids which includes tips and tricks for operation and maintenance. Get The Guide Here.
PENNSYLVANIA COTTAGE FOOD LAWS LABELING REQUIREMENTS
The basic information that must be on the label is as follows:
All food products must have a label affixed, when possible, to the product containing the following information: *GREAT FOR MARKETING YOUR BUSINESS!
- Name, address and phone number of the home food establishment.
- Name of the prepared item
- The ingredients of the product in descending order by weight
- The statement: “This product is homemade and is not prepared in an inspected food establishment.” in at least a 10-point font and in a color that provides clear contrast to the back-ground of the label.
- The Net Weight of the product
- Any Applicable Allergen Warnings (see allergen section below)
- If any nutritional claim is made – then Nutrition Guide must be listed according to the FDA guidelines on labeling.
COTTAGE FOOD LABEL EXAMPLE
Below is an example of what PA requires on their labels.
Using VistaPrint.com or similar – you can quickly create professional labels that not only serve to meet the state cottage food guidelines but also serve for marketing your awesome business and products.
Image above was created here – where you can get custom labels made.
You’ll find some fantastic examples of this from members inside VendorsUnited.com
ALLERGENS ON LABELING
The FDA lists nine (9) major food allergens. Listing any of these on your label is a smart business practice and will certainly help your customers choose a product.
- Fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod)
- Crustacean shellfish (e.g., crab, lobster, shrimp)
- Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans)
- Sesame seeds
Simply add to your label: “CONTAINS: SOYBEANS” Some go as far to announce that a certain allergen is used in the same kitchen.
Some states require you list any potential allergens and potential for any cross contamination even if the allergen is not used in the recipe.
FDA Allergen Labeling Example: Contains Wheat, Milk, Egg, and Soy
WHERE CAN I SELL MY COTTAGE FOOD PRODUCTS
Pennsylvania Cottage Food Laws – Sales Rules
The following are where you are allowed to sell your homemade products.
Inside kitchenincome.com you can find out how cottage food entrepreneurs are getting sales faster than they can make the food.
FOOD HANDLER TRAINING AND BEST PRACTICES
Pennsylvania does not require you take a food safety course… however:
Knowing the safe handling practices will protect you and your customers, it is always a good idea to take a quick online class and get certified even if you aren’t required to.
There are many short courses you can take online and actually get certified and be able to share that with your customers.
Many of our VendorsUnited.com members are proud to display their food safety certificates as a way to insure their customers that they care. This helps your business.
- Short courses that provide food handling and safety certification
- Free info from the FDA – food safety
Much of this may seem like common sense, but even if you already know, it’s a good idea to remind yourself with a list of things that can prevent you from missing something small.
And if for no other reason… CYA! CYA = Cover Your A#%
CLEAN WORK AREA / WORK SPACE / SANITIZATION
Providing safe to eat foods from your kitchen – starts in your kitchen.
Keep your area clean and sanitized to avoid cross contamination and to insure you provide your customers and clients with the safest and best foods they can get.
The following are some “common” sense things you can do to insure the best environment for preparing foods to sell:
- Keep all equipment and surface areas clean and sanitized
- Make sure window and door screens are bug proof with no gaps
- Keep ingredients separate to prevent cross contamination / e.g. raw eggs near flour
- No pets in work area and preferably none in the home
- Allow no-one with a cold, sniffles or sick in kitchen while preparing foods
- Wipe down walls and clean floors daily
- Use good lighting to avoid missing unclean areas
- Keep window and door screens in good repair to keep insects out
- Wash hands frequently while working and use food grade gloves for extra safety
- Keep areas of food storage and equipment storage clean and sanitized
Why keep these types of records?
Let’s say the inspector calls you and says they got a report that your banana bread, someone purchased, made them sick.
You’ll be able to show that you didn’t even make banana bread that week and that the person who reported you, bought that 4 weeks ago and you weren’t even the one that sold it to him.
This does not need to be complicated. I love my yellow legal pads and they make an inexpensive tool for keeping up with the following:
- The recipes you use including ingredients
- The process you use to prepare that specific recipe: (can be just like recipe instructions)
- Date made (can be coded for your own use only if your state doesn’t require the production date) e.g. Made 12.22.29 = 292212
- Date sold (you can have a batch code to help track a certain batch) Simply write down date you sold an item
- Location sold is another great piece of information to keep track of
- Sales receipts are something great to keep for a couple of reasons and over at KitchenIncome.com I dive into the best practices, best systems and best methods for tracking, managing, selling and shipping.
COTTAGE FOOD lIABILITY INSURANCE
We live in a society that likes to sue. I can sue you for wearing that color shirt. No kidding!
Of course I probably won’t win, but at the very least, it’s gonna cause you stress and some costs.
Liability insurance is a MUST.
It can be expensive – but several years ago, I found FLIP and by far, they gave me the most protection (coverage) and allow you to run your cottage food business without fear of being sued.
WHY? Because they provide the lawyers. And their lawyers… they are good!
Of course you should price shop around with your local agent or a national brand company, but rest assured, I’ve done all the legwork for you.
Alternatively, some folks opt to get bonded. You’ve heard the saying before: “licensed and bonded”.
A bond is usually provided from an insurance bonding company or your own insurance company. My first time, I got a bond at State Farm.
A bond is expensive comparatively but is less out of pocket in the beginning. Of course, it’s way, way less insurance / coverage too.
A $10,000 bond may cost $50 annually while a $2,000,000.00 liability policy may cost a few hundred a year.
No matter what you decide… knowing you’re insured against frivolous lawsuits is worth every penny.
PENNSYLVANIA COTTAGE FOOD LAWS IMPORTANT LINKS
- PA Dept. Of Agriculture – Limited Food Establishments Official Site
- Limited Food Establishment Plan Review And Application
- PA Approved Labs For Testing pH / Acidity Levels
PENNSYLVANIA COTTAGE FOOD CONTACT INFO
UPDATES TO PA COTTAGE FOOD LAWS
From time to time, links, info, rules and numbers change, are updated or made obsolete.
Although I spend time daily with hundreds of vendors (many of which are cottage food businesses) – I can miss an update.
If you find a broken link, outdated information or any other issue… please let me know and I’ll send you a special gift for helping me maintain the best site on the internet for the cottage food industry.
My goal has always been to have a central place that is absolutely free for those starting out or existing entrepreneurs who use their homes and kitchens to make real incomes.
Need more resources? Check it out HERE (Helpful Resources)
Take a peek at the best vendors on the planet, the community that rocks the food vending world: Vendors United…
This information is provided to help those interested in starting a cottage food business. It is not a document made by the state government. This information is not provided as law nor should be construed as law. Always use the contact information for each state to confirm compliance and any changes.
Did we help you? Help us to share this information…