Selling Food in Philadelphia:
Some Basics on Licenses, Permits, and Regulations
For the most part, produce sales from an urban farm or garden are not governed by federal or state regulations. In fact, many major federal food safety regulations exempt community farms from requirements. However, some laws still apply, especially when livestock is involved. In the absence of state and federal laws, Philadelphia laws primarily govern food safety and sales. Many of the City’s laws do not govern people growing food; instead, the laws apply to food preparation, such as when you slice into a tomato before selling it or giving it away.
The following toolkit describes permits needed for selling food in Philadelphia, guidelines to ensure food safety, as well as background on the federal and state food safety and sales framework.
Under the new Zoning Code, community gardening and market farming are allowed in most parts of the city, but you still need to acquire a “use registration permit” from the City if your garden or farm is a new use or a change in the use of a parcel.
- This is a one-time permit, which costs $125.
- You can find more information here https://business.phila.gov/Pages/Zoning.aspx or
- Ask for help from the Department of Licenses and Inspections: visit the Municipal Services Building 1401 John F. Kennedy Boulevard - Concourse Level or call 311 (215-686-8686)
PHILADELPHIA LAWS AND REGULATIONS FOR GROWING & SELLING FOOD
Department of Health/Office of Food Protection
If you want to prepare food (including slicing up produce to provide samples), or if you want to start selling other products, like eggs or products made from your produce, you will need to contact the Office of Food Protection to discuss what licensing or permitting might be required and get help creating a plan. However, the Office of Food Protection is not involved with incidental sales of produce from a garden. You can call 215-685-7495 or use walk-in hours at the Office of Food Protection, 321 University Avenue, 2nd Floor, Monday – Friday 9am to 4pm. The certification process takes about six weeks.
Commercial Activity License: required for most sales
The City of Philadelphia requires any group or individual that is not a registered nonprofit to obtain a Commercial Activity License from the Department of Licenses and Inspections before beginning sales. You can obtain a CAL for free. To get a CAL, you must fill out a license request form. You can do so on the Internet here: https://business.phila.gov/Pages/BusinessPrivilegeLicense.aspx? or call 311 (215-686-8686) and speak to a representative at L&I, located at the Municipal Services Building, 1401 John F. Kennedy Boulevard - Concourse Level.
Vendor Licenses, Sidewalk Sales, and Sales in the Garden
Gardeners are allowed to sell produce (uncut, whole) from their gardens without obtaining any more than a CAL. However, if you want to use the sidewalk or other right-of-way for your sales, you will need to obtain additional licenses from L&I. If you wish to set up a permanent store for selling food, you will need to contact both L&I and the Department of Health.
Currently, all farmers' markets in the City of Philadelphia must annually submit a Farmers' Market Operator Registration form to the Department of Public Health, Office of Food Protection. That form is located here: http://www.phila.gov/health/pdfs/FarmersMarketRegForm_4_23_14.pdf. The Office of Food Protection also has a comprehensive Farmers' Market Operator Guide that outlines this and other requirements for farmers' markets. For example, there may be additional requirements if your market farm is located on private property, Department of Parks and Recreation property, or if you need additional parking. You can also visit the Office of Food Protection's webpage dedicated to farmers' markets or call the office at 215-685-7495.
If you are interested in being a part of an existing market by selling, Farm to City and the Food Trust are good resources in Philadelphia, since they organize many of the City’s farmers’ markets. These organizations have different requirements for selling. For example, Farm to City requires that your farmers’ market activities are covered by general liability and product liability insurance policies. Each requires sellers to follow the Philadelphia Code for farmers’ markets (Section 9-213) which apply to food safety, sanitation, and stand maintenance, and obtain a CAL. If you are interested in selling at a market, contact either:
- Farm to City (http://www.farmtocity.org/) -- (215) 733-9599
- Food Trust (http://www.thefoodtrust.org/) -- (215) 575-0444
Sales of Value-Added Products, including those Processed in a Personal Home Kitchen
In order to sell prepared foods, you will likely need to contact the Department of Health and L&I. Many states, including Pennsylvania, have enacted “cottage food laws” that allow people to make certain food products in their home kitchens and sell them locally on a small scale. In Pennsylvania, these laws allow direct sales to consumers from the producer’s home or at a farmers’ market, as well as to grocery stores and restaurants. In order to be eligible to sell food processed in your personal home kitchen, you must submit a Home Food Processors Application with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. For more information, see http://www.agriculture.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/gateway/PTARGS_0_2_24476_10297_0_43/agwebsite/ProgramDetail.aspx?name=Home-Food-Processing&navid=12&parentnavid=0&palid=134& or contact Sheri Morris at 717-787-4315 ext. 205.
FEDERAL AND STATE REGULATIONS
Even though many of the federal and state rules about food safety do not apply to small operations like urban gardens, gardeners may find some of these rules helpful. Guidelines, or best practices, based on federal rules can help ensure garden produce is safe, prevent microbial and pest contamination, and reduce liability. Best practices include:
- Cleaning and disinfecting harvest storage facilities and transport containers
- Removing soil from the produce before it leaves the garden
- Practicing gardener hygiene and sanitation during production and harvesting in order to minimize microbial contamination of fresh produce
- Ensuring that produce is not contaminated in the process of washing, cooling, or packaging from contact with manure, poor quality water, or unclean packaging.
State and Federal Regulations of Interest to Gardeners and Farmers Selling Food
While these regulations often do not govern urban farms or gardens, they are provided as a framework for the larger food safety scheme in the United States.
- USDA: The mission of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is to “provide leadership on food [and] agriculture . . . based on sound public policy, the best science, and efficient management.” In carrying out this mission, USDA seeks to:
- expand markets for agricultural products;
- further develop alternative markets for agricultural products and activities;
- enhance food safety by taking steps to reduce the prevalence of food borne hazards from farm to table; and
- improve nutrition and health by providing food assistance and nutrition education and promotion.
The USDA has funded various initiatives in Philadelphia related to healthy food access, as well as financial aid to small businesses, farmers, and gardeners that advance USDA’s mission. Often, grants exist to help gardens or farms with an educational, economic development, or food access focus.
- FDA: The food-related responsibilities of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are to ensure that all domestic and imported foods—excepting most meat and poultry and some egg products (which are regulated by USDA)—are safe, wholesome, and accurately labeled. FDA focuses its oversight and enforcement activities on:
- periodic inspections of food processing and handling facilities,
- sampling and testing foods for the presence of harmful substances, and
- cooperation with firms seeking approval of specific food or feed additives or packages.
- PADA: The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PADA) encourages, protects, and promotes agriculture and related industries throughout the Commonwealth while providing consumer protection through inspection services that impact the health and financial security of Pennsylvania’s citizens. PADA, however, no longer has a role in licensing or inspecting retail food establishments in Philadelphia. Instead, licensing and inspection is the responsibility of the City and agencies like the Philadelphia Health Department. Under PADA, the following establishments are exempt from licensing, but not inspection by the City:
- Those that sell only raw agricultural commodities, like produce;
- Soup kitchens and food banks operated by charitable non-profit organizations;
- Those that operate three or fewer calendar days each year;
- Those that operate to support youth extracurricular activities on a non-profit basis, such as booster clubs;
- Non-profits only offering non-potentially hazardous foods or beverages, such as at bake sales; and
- Those that sell only pre-packaged, non-potentially hazardous food.
A ROUGH CHECKLIST FOR GARDENERS SELLING FOOD AND
SEEKING TO COMPLY WITH LOCAL FOOD SALES AND SAFETY LAWS
- Is your venture for profit or nonprofit?
- If for profit, the City currently requires that you obtain a Commercial Activity License (CAL).
- If you are recognized as nonprofit by the IRS, you do not need a CAL, but you need to provide the Department of Revenue with your letter from the IRS.
- Will the farm stand be located in your garden or on the sidewalk?
- If you are selling on the sidewalk, you will need to check with the Department of Licensing and Inspections about prohibited streets and/or get a sidewalk sales permit.
- If you are selling whole, uncut produce from your garden, you only need a CAL.
- If you are growing on City-owned property using an Urban Garden Agreement (UGA), then unless you receive special permission from the Vacant Property Review Committee, your UGA likely prohibits you from selling produce directly from your garden. Thus, you may need to sell from the sidewalk.
- Are you selling only raw, agricultural products that are grown on site?
- If yes, you do not need a license from the Philadelphia Department of Health’s Office of Food Protection.
- The Office of Food Protection can still inspect your farm stand.
- To be safe, remember not to sell cut produce or offer samples of your produce and make sure your produce is displayed at least six inches above the ground.
- If you are selling eggs, baked goods, or anything made with your vegetables or fruit, you should be in touch with the Office of Food Protection for more information.
- If you wish to process food in your personal home kitchen, contact the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, as well.
- If yes, you do not need a license from the Philadelphia Department of Health’s Office of Food Protection.