By: Jasmine Sandhu
I frosted my carrot cake with buttercream icing. I thought to myself: “Drop out of law school; this masterpiece will make millions.” But this recipe already had made millions. Yes, I used a store-bought cake mix and icing. If the thought crossed my mind, people with actual baking skills must think about starting a business often. Unfortunately, 60% of traditional food businesses fail within their first year, and 80% fail within four years.
You may be able to test your idea without the risks associated with starting a traditional food business – “Cottage Food” state laws allow entrepreneurs to sell food produced in their kitchens. In Pennsylvania, a person may start a food business in their home as a limited food establishment (“LFE”).
I’m not the face of the next Cake Boss, but this blog makes Pennsylvania and federal rules about LFE registration digestible.
why register your kitchen as a lfe?
Selling food within friend circles or on social media without LFE registrations may be illegal. The first violation is a summary offense. Three violations within two years is a third-degree misdemeanor. Each violation can also result in a $10,000 fine.
what are the barriers to obtaining a lfe registration?
Before discussing the LFE application, you should be aware of the barriers below that could prevent you from obtaining an LFE registration. If you cannot overcome a barrier, consider: (1) contacting a nearby commercial kitchen; or (2) creating another kitchen in your home and applying for commercial status with the Department of Agriculture (“Department”).
- Prohibited Foods
The Department prohibits Time/Temperature Control for Safety (“TCS”) foods. Typically, foods requiring refrigeration are TCS. Rejected TCS foods include:
- Fresh fruits/vegetables;
- Garlic-in-oil products;
- Meat; and
- Desserts with cream-based fillings (no Boston crème donuts – I know, blasphemy).
What if your masterpiece is a moist cake or salsa? These foods are “questionable products.” You must submit the food to a lab to test the pH and water levels.
- A physical barrier (e.g., door) to the kitchen making it inaccessible to pets; and
- A separate entrance to the kitchen, so ingredients are transported through areas inaccessible to pets.
Fish, reptiles, or other cage-confined animals aren’t considered “pets,” as long as they aren’t located near the kitchen.
- Private Water and Sewage System
Water supply and sewage disposal must be approved. If you use public water and sewage system, you’re in the clear. If your source of water is private, you must submit the water to a lab to test for chemicals. Annual testing is required to maintain registration. If you have private sewage disposal, you must contact your certified Sewage Enforcement Officer to discuss if your system is appropriate for a food business.
- Local Requirements
Local zoning or ordinances may prevent the use of home kitchens for businesses. Department approval doesn’t imply that the business complies with local requirements.
Contact your municipality to ensure that a food business from your kitchen is allowed.
how do I prepare and submit the application?
Everyone who wants to sell from their kitchen must fill out a free application to register it as a LFE. Submit the application to your regional office, who will review it within 3 to 5 weeks. The application packet is 20 pages. Don’t be alarmed – the actual application starts on page 15. Here’s a checklist to help you prepare:
what should i expect after submitting the application?
If your application is rejected, the Department will issue a letter specifying reasons for the disapproval. You can resubmit applications.
If your application is approved, an inspector will examine your kitchen and collect a $35 registration fee upon a successful inspection. After this, you can sell foods produced in your kitchen. The inspection report serves as approval before you receive registration in the mail.
If the inspector finds deficiencies, you may correct them and ask for another inspection.
what rules are there to consider when running a lfe?
- Don’t process business and personal food simultaneously. Don’t commingle ingredients between business and personal food processing.
- Don’t allow children in the kitchen during business food processing.
- Be wary of health claims on labels (e.g., “Gluten-Free”). These must be verified through sub-ingredients or testing.
- Food and Drug Administration requires nutritional labeling if you sell foods across state lines. A small business exemption may apply.
final “food” for thought…
Debbi Fields, an entrepreneur, explained: “I loved making cookies, and every time I did, I made people happy. That was my business plan.” She started her business from scratch – baking cookies from her kitchen, which turned into a million-dollar company.
I’m not a baker. Yet, I felt joy from baking a store-bought cake mix. This joy must be small compared to what Ms. Fields or you may experience. Starting a food business is risky, but the risk is lower when you can use your kitchen. Register your kitchen as a LFE, so you can take that whisk, roll in the dough, and make that bread.
This post was originally authored January 30, 2020, and can be found here.
Jasmine Sandhu, at the time of this post, is a third-year law student at Penn State’s Dickinson Law. She grew up in Northern California and completed her B.S. at UC Davis. Jasmine is interested in transactional law, specifically corporate and real estate. She is also passionate about legal topics where the law intersects with race (e.g. immigration and criminal law). She currently serves as a Law Lion Ambassador and the Symposium Executive Editor of the Dickinson Law Review. After graduation, Jasmine will join a transactional practice group at Dechert LLP in Philadelphia.