The warm weather is underway and farmer’s markets are getting back in full swing after a long hard winter. But before you package and label your homemade breads, fresh produce, and other assorted foods, you may want to consider a few technicalities. Pennsylvania’s Act 106 created The Retail Food Facility Safety Act (3 C.S.A. §§5701 – 5714), which states "...it shall be unlawful for any proprietor to conduct or operate a retail food facility without first obtaining a license for each retail food facility...." Overall, the state’s general guidelines dictates how to lawfully sell at a market, and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s (PDA) flow chart details which application packet and license should be obtained. But don’t worry, we’re here to help you weed through it a bit.
There are two prongs to selling at a farmers market: applying to the specific farmers market where you plan to sell and determining the type of licenses necessary to be a vendor at the market. The types of licenses are dependent on the location of the market, type of food that will be sold, and length of operation (other factors may be considered depending on the locality).
Location of the market: PDA predominantly regulates food production and facilities in the state. However, as discussed more extensively in March’s blog post, there are six counties in Pennsylvania where the county health department regulates food production and facilities; Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Erie, Montgomery, and Philadelphia. Additionally, some boroughs and cities make their own regulations. A complete list on where to turn for information on a specific locality can be found here. The document breaks down each local municipality by county that may have additional regulations.
If you plan to sell at more than one market, keep in mind that you may have to obtain different permits, and comply with different regulations for each location. The counties with designated authority do not recognize permits obtained outside of the locality and vice versa. For example, just because a vendor has filled out the checklist to obtain a permit to sell within Allegheny County, they are not permitted to use the same permit to operate in Butler country, which is under PDA’s authority. But, if all locations are within the PDA’s authority, than a vendor utilize one permit.
In this blog, we’re going to focus mostly on the PDA requirements, but again, be aware that different requirements may apply in the counties with delegated authority. The vendor permit application for PDA is the same whether you are selling at one market, or multiple, and thus you would need to fill out the Temporary Food Facilities application packet. This allows for you to sell products for up to 6 months. However, if you sell at more than one market you would put “multiple events” and “multiple locations” under the date and location of event questions since there is not a separate application for having multiple market stands. The application changes, however, if you fall under the more food-truck category (or basically a unit on wheels), and in that case you would have to go through the Mobile Food Facilities application packet. However, under both the Temporary Food Facilities and Mobile Food Facilities permits, the vendor must have the license with them while operating the stand/unit. Therefore, no two stands/units can operate under the same license at the same time.
Type of food to be sold: Under the PDA rules, there are generally six types of food that each require different levels of inspection, fees, and applications, which are detailed below. However, it is important to note that the counties with delegated authority may have different classifications or permitting requirements, so make sure to consult with their permitting process if you are selling in those counties.
- Raw Agricultural Products- This includes fruits and vegetables from the farm that have not been processed. Farmers market licensing fees: None. No food establishment license needed.
- Pre-Packaged, Non-Potentially Hazardous Foods. This includes baked goods, canned products, honey products, and syrups. Requirements: a Retail Plan Review Application. Exempt from licensing fees, but food must be made in at least a limited food establishment certified kitchen.
- Unpackaged, Non-Potentially Hazardous Foods. Includes baked goods and other products that are sold loose/unwrapped (breads, cookies, candy). Foods cannot require time or temperature controlled ingredients. Requirements: Has to be made in at least a limited food establishment certified kitchen, $103 fee for first time vendors, $82 for renewing vendors.
- Pre-Packaged, Potentially Hazardous Foods- Potentially Hazardous Foods are those that require time/temperature control for safety to limit pathogenic microorganism growth or toxin formation. This includes temperature sensitive foods, such as meats, milk, cheese and eggs and foods that contain them. Requirements: Food must be made in a full commercial food establishment, $103 fees for first time vendors, $82 for renewing vendors.
- Unpackaged, Potentially Hazardous Foods- Typically deli counters where food is portioned to a consumer’s request. Requirements: Has to be made in a full commercial food establishment (see above link), $103 fees for first time vendors, $82 for renewing vendors.
- Ready-To-Eat Foods- Food sold for immediate consumption, including food carts, cafés and restaurants. Requirements: Food must be made in a full commercial food establishment (see above link) and proper temperature controls must be followed at vending site, $103 fees for first time vendors, $82 for renewing vendors. Vendors will also need a PA sales tax license
Variations: This is specific to markets within the PDA’s regulation (localities vary). If you plan on operating at an event, or only a few times during the season, (rather than the 6 months you are allowed under the Temporary Food Facilities permit) then you may fall under one of the exceptions/temporary permitting options below:
- Less than three days per calendar year- a vendor does not need to obtain a license, but still has to meet limited food establishment or commercial food establishment requirements for food preparation
- Four to thirteen days per calendar year- If the stand will operate for four to thirteen days under an organized farmer’s market, then a vendor can obtain a Temporary Event License (and still meet food establishment requirements). If some of the time the vendor will operate outside of an organized farmer’s market or at two or more markets, then the vendor must obtain a Temporary Food Facilities License.
It is suggested that the application packet must be completed at least 60 days prior to operating, however, work with your local agent to get an estimate on timing if you are under a crunch.
Food that is “potentially hazardous” cannot be produced in a kitchen under the limited food establishment program, they must be produced in commercial kitchens and must be inspected by the appropriate authority. Acidic or pickled foods can be processed/canned in a home kitchen or home-style kitchen.
Allegheny County does not have a limited food establishment program, all processed foods must be made in a full commercial kitchen.
The vendor must comply with any insurance, or other requirements detailed under the terms of the farmers markets they participate in.
Remember-most of this blog is centered on the PDA requirements and whole produce and fruits are exempted, it’s only if you are vending processing foods!
Hope this helps shed some light on the processes necessary to begin selling those delicious pies or other goods at this year’s farmers markets. However, this is a general summary, so we advise talking to an attorney as to the specific regulations/requirements for your food product. We’re always happy to chat!