Spring is in the air, which signals the return of the outdoor farmers market season! I know I am excited to take my daughter to our local farmers market and enjoy the great products and people there, (and the warmer weather!) If you are a food producer or processor, farmers markets are a great way to connect directly with customers, increase sales and get feedback from your customers on products.
WAgN and the Vermont New Farmer Project provide excellent resource materials and training opportunities that can help you to assess various market opportunities and to price and promote your products in venues such as farmers markets.
In addition to pricing and promotion of your products, you also need to follow food safety best practices and produce and process your food products according to the rules and regulations set by the Vermont Department of Health and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. Not only will this guarantee that products are as safe as possible, it also will assure your customers that your business, as well as the entire farmers market, has product quality and safety in mind.
UVM Extension has published a series of “Food Safety for Farmers Market Vendors” factsheets, which help to clarify the various regulatory requirements, and also list the recommended best practices to ensure the safety of the various types of food offered at farmers markets. A webinar presenting much of this information, as well as additional resources is also available.
Some of the key best practices for food vendors selling at farmers markets include the following:
–Cook, transport and hold foods at the proper temperatures to prevent rapid bacterial growth. Hot prepared foods must be held at 135 F or higher, cold perishable foods from 32 to 40 F and frozen foods at less than 15 F.
–Reduce possible cross-contamination, which can transfer bacteria from one food to another. For example, be sure that raw meat does not contact ready-to-eat food or fresh produce.
–Practice good personal hygiene such as clean clothes and hands to prevent transferring bacteria to your food.
Vermont does not currently have any regulations for offering product samples. However, if you do hand out samples, be sure to do so in a sanitary manner. Only put out small amounts at a time and always keep perishable foods hot or cold, as appropriate.
In addition to following the practices listed above, farmers market vendors must comply with certain key regulations including that all products sold must follow proper labeling and temperature requirements. In addition, ingredients or foods used to prepare food for market must be from safe sources.
You also might be required to have a license, depending on the products you plan to sell, your annual sales or where you prepare the food.
Following these best practices and recommendations will help to protect this valuable outlet for Vermont’s local products and ensure that everyone has a pleasant and safe farmers market season.
Enjoy Farmers Market season!