People love cookies, cakes and breads right out of the oven. Yet finding homemade food for sale can be difficult because states often restrict people who work in their own kitchens. The biggest obstacle to selling homemade food in Pennsylvania is a cumbersome startup process. Once approved as a Pennsylvania Limited Food Establishment, home-based business owners can sell many types of food.
Pennsylvania cottage food types
Many states regulate “cottage food,” meaning food made in a home kitchen for sale. Pennsylvania uses terms like “limited food processor” and “residential-style kitchen.” Cottage food producers in Pennsylvania may sell products that are not “time and temperature controlled for safety.” This includes baked goods like breads and cookies, along with candy, honey, syrup, dry goods, meat jerkies, jams, jellies and granola. Pennsylvania also allows the sale of acidified foods, which includes salsas, pickled relishes, pickled vegetables, hot sauces, barbecue sauce, and canned fruits like apples, peaches and lemons. Finally, cottage food producers in Pennsylvania may sell fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles and green olives. To sell acidified or fermented foods, producers must provide the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture with written recipes, pay for testing in a commercial food laboratory, and receive approval from a food inspector.
Pennsylvania cottage food venues
All venues are open to cottage food producers in Pennsylvania. They can sell their products online, at home, and across state lines. They even can sell their products in retail outlets. Some states impose annual sales limits, but cottage food producers in Pennsylvania can sell as much as they want.
Getting started in Pennsylvania
Launching a homemade food business in Pennsylvania is not easy. Applicants must start by checking with local authorities about zoning and code enforcement issues. Rules may vary in different jurisdictions. Once applicants have local approval, they must submit a detailed business plan to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. They also must pass a home inspection, submit samples of certain types of food for laboratory testing, and pay for water testing when water comes from a private source. All applicants must agree to keep pets and children away from food preparation areas. The application fee is $35 and takes three to five weeks to process. Detailed rules are available in a 20-page application packet…
Allegheny County cottage food rules
Baking enthusiasts in Allegheny County could not sell a single homemade cookie, cupcake or loaf of bread until May 2021, when the Institute for Justice intervened on behalf of an aspiring cottage food producer in Pittsburgh. Prior to that time, Allegheny County banned all cottage food sales in all venues. Code enforcers even sent cease-and-desist letters during the COVID-19 pandemic, cutting off a source of home-based income while simultaneously advising people to work from home as much as possible. Volunteers could organize bake sales for charity, but they could not sell the same foods made in the same kitchens for profit. If people wanted to keep revenue for themselves, they had to spend tens of thousands of dollars to rent or build a commercial-grade kitchen. Allegheny County lifted its cottage food ban after meeting with the Institute for Justice. Producers still must comply with state law.
Pennsylvania cottage food facts
Myths about cottage food abound. Here are the facts:
- Cottage food is safe. Critics who talk about the risk of food-borne illness give hypothetical examples of what could go wrong because real-world cases are rare or nonexistent.
- Cottage food is local. When neighbors trade with neighbors, money stays in the local economy.
- Cottage food is transparent. People who buy from a cottage food producer know what they get. If they have questions about ingredients, sourcing or safety, they can ask.
- Cottage food creates jobs. Many homemade food producers use their income to provide for their families. Others seek a secondary or supplemental income.
- Cottage food empowers women. IJ cottage food research shows that most cottage food producers are women, and many live in rural areas with limited economic opportunity.
- Cottage food expands consumer choice. Some stores simply don’t sell what you want. This is especially true if you have a gluten-free, peanut-free, halal, kosher or vegan diet. Cottage food fills market gaps, giving consumers more options.
Pennsylvania cottage food resources
As part of its Food Freedom Initiative, the Institute for Justice provides a variety of resources for home bakers and other food entrepreneurs. These include:
- Model Food Freedom Act from the Institute for Justice guides activism efforts at state capitols nationwide.
- Flour Power: How Cottage Food Entrepreneurs Are Using Their Home Kitchens to Become Their Own Bosses surveys 775 cottage food producers in 22 states about what their businesses mean to them.
- Ready to Roll highlights nine lessons from the Institute for Justice’s cottage food victory in Wisconsin.
- The Attack on Food Freedom examines the impact of regulations on farmers, chefs, artisans, restaurateurs, food truck operators and others.
Tell your Pennsylvania story
Is government violating your homemade food freedom in Pennsylvania? Do you have a potential case for IJ? Get started here…
Support Pennsylvania legislation
Help expand cottage food laws in Pennsylvania by teaming with the Institute for Justice. Send an email with your name, background information and availability to get started…
Defending homemade food freedom nationwide
People have a right to earn an honest living without arbitrary and excessive government interference. Since 2013, the Institute for Justice has defended home bakers and chefs as part of its Food Freedom Initiative. Read about IJ’s nationwide food freedom advocacy…
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All information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Statutes, regulations, and processes are subject to change at any time, and specific facts and circumstances could alter how they are applied. If you have questions about the regulation of cottage foods in your jurisdiction, we recommend consulting a lawyer who can help you navigate the process.