Exceptions to the Rules: How Farmers Markets Meet Food Safety Measures

The Importance of Food Safety 

Food Safety is the strict practices of when handling, preparing, and storing food to prevent foodborne illnesses. The CDC estimates that 48 million Americans get sick each year from a foodborne illness. The most common pathogenic bacteria that consumers come in contact with includes:

  • Shiga Toxin- producing E. Coli–  STEC
  • Salmonella spp.
  •  C. Jejuni. 

Typically these pathogens enter the human body when we eat undercooked proteins, unwashed produce, or drinking contaminated water. This can easily be avoided by cooking proteins at the recommended degree of doneness, washing produce before eating, and testing or checking with your city about water contaminants. 

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was passed in 2011 to establish preventative food safety issues. This act pushed for mandatory federal food safety standards for produce across the US. This directed growers to follow the new standards rather than voluntarily following guidelines. There are seven rules that growers must follow in order to meet the new federal standard and sell their products to consumers. 

Exemptions to the Rules

There are a few FSMA rules that small growers can bypass

  • Food that that is rarely consumed raw such as beans, some leafy greens, root crops, or grains
  • The produce is for on farm consumption
  • The average sales in a 3-year period do not exceed $500,000 or $250,00 for very small businesses
  • Produce that receives commercial processing in which it reduces the presence of microorganisms 
  • Qualified Exemptions to farm sales that meet qualified end users such as a direct consumer or a food establishment within 275 miles from the farm. 

Those with qualified exemptions are given modified requirements they must follow. 

  • Label their product with the name and business address of the farm the product was grown or disclose that information at the point of purchase 
  • Keep thorough records and documentation of their sales. 

What Does This Mean for Farmers’ Markets? 

Farmers’ markets are places where small growers can showcase their produce directly to consumers allowing them to build a sense of community. It is like a bridge that connects two worlds supplying each other education, support, and accessibility to amazing food. With the increase in popularity in buying from local vendors, farmers’ markets are seeing new and loyal buyers. 

Most, if not all, these markets are held out in the open making a great place for people to gather under the pleasant sun or cooling breeze depending on the season. Certified Farmers’ markets are regularly inspected for food hygiene but bacterial pathogen checks are often overlooked due to the FSMA exemptions. Between 1994-2016 there were  only 10 foodborne illness outbreaks, a majority of them being Salmonella and E. coli. Out of those 10, two were traced back from originating at farmers markets (Young. 2017). 

However, these markets still practice safety measures by all means to continue to provide to consumers. Preventative measures include:

  • Handwashing or sanitation stations
  • Food Safety Training 
  • Setting up booths in U shapes to prevent the least amount of cross contamination
  • Keeping up to health code and regulations

What to Take From This

Just like buying from a grocery store, it is very important that we as consumers know that there may be a risk of contracting a foodborne illness from the produce and proteins we eat. We constantly hear on the news about a new foodborne outbreak, the most recent being E.coli in romaine lettuce. Whether we buy our favorite foods from your farmers’ market on the weekend or getting them from the grocery store down the block, we must always remember to cook our meat  and wash our produce thoroughly. No one wants to get sick so stay safe and keep eating good when you can!


(Estimates of Foodborne Illnesses in the United States, 2018) 


(Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), n.d.)


(FSMA Final Rule Produce Safety, n.d.)


Young, I., Thaivalappil, A., Reimer, D., & Greig, J. (2017). Food safety at farmers’ markets: A knowledge synthesis of published research. Journal of Food Protection, 80(12), 2033-2047. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy.library.cpp.edu/10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-17-193

3 thoughts on “Exceptions to the Rules: How Farmers Markets Meet Food Safety Measures

  1. Food safety is an important component for a business or an establishment to consider. Farmers markets provide an opportunity to support local growers and producers as well as accessibility to a variety of produce. While researching this topic, I found several sources that provide insight on how individuals can be mindful of food safety at farmers markets. As these venues are outdoors there are a lot of potential hazards from contaminations. The article goes in detail about paying attention to vendor’s booths and safety practices, cleanliness, storage and transport of various products, and talking with the vendors to see how the producers cultivate their products. It also provides tips on ways to prevent food borne illnesses and provides insight on how to be mindful in selecting different types of products.

    Click to access Food%20Safety%20and%20the%20Farmers%20Market.pdf

    In another article I found, there is discussion about personal hygiene and health when working or being near food. It seems very appropriate for current times with the COVID-19 pandemic as it reminds individuals how easily food borne illness can spread from an infected employee or customer to fresh produce or products in general. The basic concepts of handwashing, wearing clean attire, wearing gloves and hair nets, and not attending work or the function if they feel ill. This article goes into detail about potential health hazards and contamination.



  2. This is a hot topic in the agriculture industry and of course the health industry. Following guidelines and regulations creates safer food for consumers. Adhering to these strict rules, can be tedious, but the impact it has on the state or nation is immense and can then save lives. Thinking of those who are impacted by a food-borne illness and the companies that try their hardest to make sure they are delivering the highest and healthiest quality food, are also struck when outbreaks occur. On a smaller scale, local farmers must also adhere to the guidelines in order to stay in business where their farm and trips to farmers markets, could be what is paying their mortgage and various expenses. The farmers rely on their business and most do not have the funds for a foodborne illness outbreak. Maintaining and updating guidelines is crucial to staying healthy and out of the hospital.


    1. According to a report by the University of Tennessee Institute Of Agriculture, each year one out of six Americans will become ill with a food borne pathogen. These pathogens can be bacteria, viruses, or parasites that are spread by contaminated foods, and many of these food commodities are commonly sold at farmers markets. Consequently, market managers should be aware of the various practices that will help protect consumers and decrease the likelihood of a foodborne illness being associated with the products sold at their market. In terms of best practices, there are seven practices that can be implemented to help customers avoid contracting a foodborne illness at a farmers market.
      The first major practice involves the sampling of produce and foods. While many vendors want to showcase their products by allowing customers to sample them, a significant number of local health departments do not allow sampling or have specific guidelines. As a result, vendors should check with their city or county health departments to determine their health regulations. Also, farmer’s market customers and pets can also be sources of pathogens, so customers should have access to clean well stocked bathrooms and handwashing stations and pets should be restricted from entering areas of the market where food is being sold.
      While vendors should use every square inch in their display area, all produce should be kept at least six inches or more off the ground in order to prevent contamination. Regarding containers, the best kind of containers for vendors to use would be plastic containers that can be cleaned and sanitized between uses, and in terms of good agricultural practices, market managers should be aware of the various good agricultural practices and strongly encourage food venders to have a food safety plan implemented on all of their farms. Aside from being aware of the various good agricultural practices, farmer market managers are also tasked with assuring all food manufacturers are complying with all state regulations and if the vendor is selling across state lines than they must comply with federal regulations. Aside from ensuring all good agricultural practices are met, mangers should also ensure that venders are meeting various sanitary practices.
      All utensils used for cutting up samples for customers should be thoroughly washed and sanitized by venders between each usage. If cleaning and sanitizing food serving and preparation utensils is not an option at the market, than vendors should prepare the samples prior to coming to the market and keep them in a cooler on ice. By following all sanitary food handling practices, farmers can sell their products at farmer’s markets all throughout year in order to make a profit while at the same time protecting consumers from contracting a foodborne illness.

      Click to access SP749%20Food%20Safety%20Best%20Practices%20for%20Farmers%20Markets.pdf


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