Food Safety at the Farmers Market
Many food businesses begin at local farmers markets. They are a fantastic way to get the word out about your new product and to get valuable feedback directly from consumers. Fresh produce, small-batch jams, and locally-made baked goods straight from the producer make these markets a popular destination for thousands of people. Farmers markets are ideal for creating relationships between businesses and local customers. Whether you are at the market with a new product or one that has repeat customers, selling local doesn’t mean food safety should be ignored.
Your food business is never too small to implement a food safety system. It only takes one instance of food-related sickness to lose your customers’ loyalty and to damage a business's reputation.
Food Safety is Vital at Farmers Markets
Foodborne illness is not limited to large box stores or large packaged food companies. In fact, produce has been a consistent cause of recalls in the past few years. According to an article titled Avoiding Risks at the Farmer’s Market, The Harvard Medical School lists several health risks associated with food consumed from farmers markets. The pathogens associated with foodborne illness commonly found in these venues are Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter, Staphylococcus aureus, toxin-producing Escherichia coli, and Listeria.
In 2018, we witnessed several high-profile recalls involving produce. While romaine lettuce recalls garnered much of the media attention, other perishable foods had safety issues. Along with romaine, fresh cut fruits such as honeydew, watermelon, and cantaloupe were recalled. In one case, Caito Foods linked 77 cases of people sickened with Salmonella Adelaide across nine states. The contamination was linked to pre-cut melons produced at the company’s Indianapolis factory.
Farmers markets must uphold the same level of food safety and follow regulatory mandates. Food safety is more than just another box to check off before selling products. Having food safety in mind at the farmers market will help ensure repeat customers. By focusing on product quality and safety as top concerns, you let customers know that their health is your priority.
Regulations for Selling at Farmers Markets
Specific requirements for food businesses to vend at farmers markets vary from state to state. Depending on where you live, you still may need a business license or other permits to sell food at a farmers market. On the other hand, food safety regulations are standardized by the USDA and FDA. Safe handling practices for meat and poultry fall under USDA guidance. Other foods are regulated by the FDA and fall under the Food Safety Modernization Act established in 2016.
Understanding the rules which apply to your business is the first step to keeping food safety top of mind. While some companies may be exempt from FSMA guidelines, one or several parts of the rule may apply to other businesses. To ensure adequate training and education, the FDA has provided resources for farmers.
The produce safety page links to all resources relevant to the FSMA final rule on produce safety. Businesses selling farm fresh produce at farmers markets must identify the laws that apply. Small vendors with annual produce sales below $25,000 are exempt from the regulations. However, there are some basic food safety protocols for farmers markets.
- Comply with local regulations that might have more stringent requirements for vendors.
- Sampling food products requires proper food handling training
The basics include:
- Proper handwashing stations and sanitizing stations for all utensils and surfaces that come in contact with food
- Ensuring proper food storage temperatures are maintained and monitored
- Using appropriate tools when handling food samples
- Providing gloves for anyone handling food samples
- Keeping samples to a single serving to prevent customers from touching
- Having a trash can nearby to properly dispose of waste
Packaged foods must comply with basic labeling regulations. Food products must be labeled appropriately. Information should include the name of the product, who produced it, address, ingredients, allergen statement, and the quantity in weight, volume, or count.
Farmers markets are an ideal place to introduce products to local customers. Minimizing the risk for foodborne illness should be a priority for every food business.
Resources that Keep Safety Top-of-Mind at the Market
By keeping food safety as a key priority, it is possible to minimize the risks at the local farmers market for your business. It is never too soon to create a culture based on food safety. Building an effective food safety program is easier with FoodLogiQ’s software solutions. Whether it’s managing recalls, streamlining a supply chain, or improving your food safety processes, FoodLogiQ provides the tools that help you prioritize food safety. To learn more, download our Food Safety & Traceability Software Buyer's Guide.