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Things to know when buying from a Home Baker in Pennsylvania

Things to know when buying from a Home Baker in Pennsylvania

Key things to know when buying from a Home Cottage Bakery in Pennsylvania. There are RULES! Yes, these rules are for the consumer's safety and to establish proper standards according to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. We know that many of us have "friends" that make the "best" cookies, cupcakes, pies, etc.. Sometimes 

Cottage food laws allow homeowners to produce and sell a variety of foods from home, also known as a Limited Food Establishment (LFE).  The rules of what is and is not accepted vary from state to state, but in general only safe foods are allowed, and we are only highlighting content as it pertains to the state of Pennsylvania. The term 'limited food processor' or 'residential-style kitchen' which are also common terms to refer to a home-style kitchen, residential style kitchen or a personal use kitchen, regardless of the location - on or off an actual residential property.

Buyer Beware:

Foods identified as potentially hazardous foods (PHF) such as (real butter) buttercream icing or pastry cream or pickles or other canned goods might be excluded from sale due to a higher risk of pathogenic organisms that can make people sick.

According to the PA Department of Agriculture ( HERE ), 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.

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).

Baked Goods:

Baking is the most common type of food processing conducted in a limited food establishment. Traditional bakery items produced include but not limited to cakes, breads, bagels, cookies, rolls, muffins, brownies, biscuits/ biscotti, tortilla and most fruit pies/ pastries, etc. Perishable baked goods (TCS food) are NOT allowed to be prepared in the limited food establishment and may include items such as cheesecakes, pumpkin pies, cream/custard or meringue pastries/ pies and desserts, pudding prepared from a mix or scratch, or any food item that has sufficient moisture, high pH (low acidity, pH>4.6) and/or ingredients that will support the growth of pathogenic microorganisms. TCS foods may also include baked good containing meat or cheeses. Generally, any product which is not shelf-stable at room temperature and requires refrigeration after preparation would be considered TCS food. Most baked goods do not require testing; however, baked goods in question, shall be tested for pH and Available Water (aw) by the producer. Evaluation of the product will be made by the Food Inspector following the submission of the results.


Bakery items made and sold directly to a Commonwealth consumer, by the baker (or their employee), do not require any labeling information directly on the products or any formal display of ingredients; however, ingredient information must be available upon request. Any baked goods not directly produced by the limited food establishment (purchased products) would require full labeling. Items sold at a retail facility, not owned or operated by the baker; require one of the following forms of labeling: (1) Packaged Bakery Product must have all required labeling information on the package. (2) Loose/ Bulk-Displayed Bakery Product must have all required label information posted by the display. (3) Bakery Products sold at retail facilities, for consumption on the premises, such as a restaurant, require that the label information be available to the consumer upon request. Any item labeled with a claim such as Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Organic, Sugar Free or similar must be able to substantiate the that claim through manufacturer’s labeling of sub-ingredients or through product testing. The Code of Federal Regulations (CFRs) has specific guidelines regarding under what circumstances these claims may be made. Use of claims may require a nutritional facts panel.

Additional Requirements (No Pets and No Kids in the Kitchen):

During commercial processing, no part of the home kitchen may be used for personal food preparation. This means that home food preparation and commercial food processing operations cannot be conducted at the same time. This kind of "dual-use" kitchen requires you to carefully schedule your time so that private activities and business activities do not conflict.

Ingredients used for your food business must be kept separate from ingredients for personal use and must be properly identified, stored, and protected from sources of contamination. Proper storage includes using food-grade containers that keep pests out, and maintaining temperatures that do not promote spoilage.

No animals are permitted in the home at any time. If you have family pets, you'll need to either keep them outside at all times, physically separate the kitchen from the rest of the home (e.g., with a wall or solid door) and add a private exit/entrance, or find an alternate place to do your food processing (church, fire hall, remodeled garage area, outbuilding, etc.).

Children are not permitted in the kitchen area during commercial processing. This might be tough for families with young children but ideal for those with kids who attend school outside the home. People with young children and homeschoolers might be able to work this out with careful scheduling, child care help, and a lot of patience and commitment.

Along with the guidelines listed above, specific categories of home-processed foods must meet other requirements.

Needless to say, it is no easy task to become an Approved and Certified Cottage Bakery (Limited Food Establishment). At Butter Sweet Baked, we take it one step further and are proud to uphold our ServSafe® Certification to guarantee that we are providing the safest environment and processes to keep our customers safe.

ServSafe® certification is a series of trainings – followed by a test – which instruct foodservice workers on the best practices for preventing foodborne illness in commercial settings. 

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