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#28 Becoming a Small-Scale Food Processor

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Information prepared by Olga Padilla-Zakour, Director of the NYS Food Venture Center at Cornell University ( – for educational purposes only – please contact pertinent regulatory agencies for further detail.

The Federal government, individual states, cities and municipalities govern the operation of food processing facilities whether home kitchens or commercial facilities. Regulations differ from state to state and are determined by the type of food product being prepared and the processing methods used. When considering starting up a home or commercial kitchen, it is important to research which agencies regulate licensing of the product, inspection of the facility, foods allowed and not allowed to be produced in each facility, local zoning laws governing the use of the building, and building codes.

Foods that are regulated and require a Processing License in NY – Article 20-C License

Featured Resource

For a complete list of products that require an Article 20-C license visit the following website:
NYS Food Venture Center

This regulation applies to anything that is altered by baking, canning, preserving, freezing, dehydrating, juicing, cider making, pickling, brining, bottling, packaging, repackaging, pressing, waxing, heating or cooking, smoking, roasting, or manufacturing. Requirements vary depending on product. A scheduled process must be developed which outlines recipe testing/formulation, critical control points (to avoid contamination and control hazards), processing steps, storage requirements, distribution and selling conditions/restrictions.


Food Safety

HACCP (Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points) Plans are mandated by FDA regulations for certain products and processes, specifying procedures to be followed to minimize contamination and to minimize/eliminate chemical, physical and biological hazards when processing foods. HACCP plans are required for wholesale sale (not for retail) of seafood, dairy, meat and poultry products, juice and cider processing facilities.  Other sectors of the food industry are coming into voluntary compliance. For more information check:

Home Processing Exemption

New York State allows non-hazardous foods such as candy, cakes not requiring refrigeration, cookies, brownies, two-crusted fruit pies, breads and rolls, standard fruit jams and jellies, dried spices and herbs, and snack items to be produced in home kitchens. A review of processing procedures may be required for certain products before exemption is granted.

Anyone seeking a Home Processing Exemption must:

  • Contact the NYS Department of Agriculture & Markets to obtain this certificate (
  • Complete an annual water test for bacteria
  • Note: Internet sales are not allowed under this exemption

Some types of foods may not be produced in a home kitchen, as mandated by Federal regulations. These foods are considered potentially hazardous:

  • Low acid and acidified (pickled) foods packed in hermetically sealed containers must be registered with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • Meat products with more than 3% raw or 2% cooked meat ingredients in a completed product are regulated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • Vacuum packaged and any other reduced oxygen packaged products

Zoning Regulations

Local municipal zoning and planning boards determine the scale of operations permitted in an establishment. They regulate the number of employees allowed on premises and whether a second separate kitchen facility is allowed to operate on site. Check with local building inspectors to determine what operations can take place in the kitchen chosen for food production. There are local building codes that govern the volume of business in a building and egress from a building, drainage issues such as back flow protection, and grease traps.  Commercial equipment must comply with fire codes, FDA and USDA requirements as appropriate.

Minimum Food Processing Facility Requirements for New York State

Procedure Home Kitchen Home Annex Commercial
Inspection Yes, Potable water required (documented) – municipal or treated well water Yes, Potable water required (documented) – municipal or treated well water Yes, Potable water required (documented) – municipal or treated well water
Licensing Non-potentially hazardous foods for wholesale market exempt from licensing by NYS Dept of Agriculture & Markets (NYSDAM) 20-C license (obtained from NYSDAM) Licensing
Inspection Agency NYSDAM
May request review of processing procedures by recognized processing authority. Only normal kitchen facilities can be used.
Dept. of Health- fresh-serve foods only. Kitchen held to restaurant standards (see below).
Dept. of Health- fresh-serve foods only. Kitchen held to restaurant standards (see below).
Foods Allowed
  •  Candy (non-chocolate)
  • Fudge
  • Cakes not requiring refrigeration
  • Cookies
  • Brownies
  • Two-crust fruit pies
  • Bread
  • Rolls
  • Fruit jams
  • Jellies
  • Spices, herbs
  • Snack items
  • Baked goods (i.e. bread, rolls) for wholesale distribution
Any processed food
Low acid and acidified foods packed in hermetically sealed containers. Must register and file with FDA
Any processed food
Low acid and acidified foods packed in hermetically sealed containers. Must register and file with FDA
Foods Not Allowed
  • Cakes which require refrigeration
  • Pies containing milk, eggs or meat products
  • Chocolates
  • Low acid/acidified foods
Meat products – if more than 3% raw or 2% cooked
meat ingredients – USDA regulated
Meat products – if more than 3% raw or 2% cooked
meat ingredients – USDA regulated

Check with city/town Zoning/Planning Board

Issues: Scale of operation, number of employees

Check with municipality Zoning/Planning Board

Issues: scale of operation; number of employees

2nd kitchen may not be allowed on premise

Check with municipality Zoning/Planning Board

Issues: scale of operation, number of employees


Basic Requirements for a Small-Scale Food Processing Establishment

State of NY Department of Health (DOH) – Restaurants

  • Submit kitchen drawings before construction
  • Three-bay sink with stainless steel drain boards or two-bay sink with a commercial dishwasher
  • Separate hand washing/mop sink
  • Washable materials on walls and work surfaces
  • Restaurant grade, commercial tile floors- painted concrete not allowed
  • Commercial coolers/refrigeration
  • Water from non-municipal water supply must be tested quarterly.
  • Review DOH “Checklist for New or Remodeled Establishments”
  • Some locales require food worker certification.

NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets – Food preparation and processing

  • Kitchen requirements based on food item(s) being produced- Determined upon inspection
  • Easily cleanable, smooth work surfaces
  • Non-absorbent, smooth and easily cleanable floors, walls and ceilings
  • Review of processing procedures including hand washing, sanitizing, equipment sinks, water potability and food preparation
  • Review NYSDAM Circular 951 -Pursuant to the Licensing of Food Processing Establishments
  • *Circular 938 – Rules and Regulations Relating to Food Processing Establishments
  •  *Circular 933-Good Manufacturing Practices

*Circulars are available through local Dept. of Agriculture and Markets
NYSDAM, 10B Airline Drive Albany, NY 12235
518-457-3880 or 1-800-554-4501

Helpful Resources for Small Scale Food Processors

For assistance in developing a scheduled process for your recipe or developing a processed food product, contact:

NY Food Venture Center
NYS Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva
315-787-2259 or

To request the publication Small Scale Food Entrepreneurship:  A Technical Guide for Food Ventures”, contact:
Elizabeth Keller, 315-787-2273 or
Access the online version:

Product development, processing and distribution assistance is also available from:
Nelson Farms at SUNY Morrisville
315-655-8831 or

To learn about small scale food processing activities in NYS:
Join the NYS Small Scale Food Processors Association
Become a member of Pride of NY
800-554-4501 or

Regional Offices of the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets, Division of Food and Inspection Services
Contact Information
55 Hanson Place
Brooklyn, NY 11217-1583
Electric Tower Building
535 Washington Street, 2nd Floor Suite 203
Buffalo, NY 14203
900 Jefferson Road
Rochester, NY 14623
NYS Fairgrounds – Art and Home Center
Syracuse, NY 13209

United States Food and Drug Administration

300 Pearl Street, Suite 100
Buffalo, NY 14202

New York District Office
158-15 Liberty Avenue
Jamaica, NY 11433

United States Department of Agriculture – Food Safety Inspection Service (USDA FSIS)
5 Washington Square
Albany, NY 12205


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16 thoughts on “#28 Becoming a Small-Scale Food Processor

  1. B. Freeman says:

    This information is very useful. It gave me insight into requirements and exemptions that I didn’t know were available. I plan on gathering more information on Food Inspection and Processing guidelines. Thank you. B.Freeman

  2. Patti says:

    Does a home processor cook need insurance? If so what kind and how much? For selling at craft shows,thank you

  3. Suzanne Garnsey says:

    What about home canned fruit butters and home canned hot sauce? Do these need the 20C license?

  4. w. bak says:

    thank you for putting this info out. It is extremely helpful..

  5. Seth Asinor says:


  6. patricia nguti says:

    I found the information to be extremely helpful. It answered many questions we had requiring starting a small scale business from our home.

  7. jarid lewis says:

    i manage a restaurant and was wondering what the cost would be to get licensed to sell mustard and wing sauces

  8. Sarah Diana Nechamen says:

    Hi Jarid,
    Check out this NYS Ag and Markets page to determine what kind of licenses you might need.

  9. Jarred says:

    I work at a certified kitchen for my regular job and also make cheese at that kitchen when I am able to. The owner allows me to. What would I need to do for certification with this situation to sell my product?

  10. Carli Fraccarolli says:

    Hi Jarred,

    I would suggest contacting your local Cornell Cooperative Extension agent for the answers to your questions. Click your county on this interactive map for contact information:

    Good luck!
    Carli – Cornell Small Farms Summer Intern

  11. Jessica says:

    Hi, thank you for the article; it gave me some insight on food laws in NY and starting it myself. I wish to sell pickled fruits and vegetables and was wondering where I can find information as to what licenses I need and what I need to do to be able to sell it legally? I am not planning on selling it wholesale, just at markets on my own. I will be the only employee and have sole responsibility and liability for everything. Also, am I allowed to sell refrigerated pickled foods and if so, what would I need to do such as licenses and requirements to do so. I am also interested in selling indoor gardening vegetables that I can grow year round as was wondering what I needed to get and do to be able to sell this and what I cannot do. Thank you for any help you may provide me with.

  12. says:

    Hi Jessie,
    There are a lot of variables here. For the vegetable sales, there aren’t really any regulations you need to meet. For the picked foods, typically I would refer you to the fact sheet above but you’ve already seen that. That sheet does list the people you should contact though, particularly the staff at the Northeast Food Venture Center. For any processed food you will most likely need a “Scheduled Process” in order to sell it; this means a step-by-step recipe and process you follow to ensure food safety. You can use a home kitchen to produce some things for direct sale, but I believe pickles would need to be made in a licensed commercial kitchen (20-C license). I strongly suggest reading this Guide as your next step:

  13. Virginia says:

    I’ve read the docs on the Agriculture site, but still a bit confused. If I wanted to mix dried herbs and/or repackage into smaller weights to sell on the internet – I need to be commercial?

    If I have the wholesaler repackage into smaller weights and I put my own label on it then it’s retail and on the label I use “Manufactured for X Name”? No commercial license needed?

  14. says:

    Hi Virginia,
    Yes, I believe you are correct. If you are doing the mixing and packaging yourself, you would need to do it in a licensed 20C kitchen facility. (This does not have to be at your own home – you could lease space at a facility nearby, though I believe you would need to obtain your own 20C license for that facility). If you have someone else do it for you (also called co-packing), you would not have to obtain a license yourself.

  15. Dorothy Middaugh says:

    We have a NYS Ag and Markets Food Processing license and microbrewery license. Do we need a special license to sell cheese and crackers tray, fruit tray, veggie tray, soft pretzels, nachos and cheese, salsa and nachos, popcorn, breads sticks and sauce.
    Thank you

  16. Claire Cekander says:

    Hi Dorothy,

    I would direct your question to the Small Scale Food Processors Association. Here is their website:

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