Food Safety at Farmers’ Markets
Summer is almost here! Soon farmers’ markets will be bustling as consumers flock to buy fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and even meat from local farmers. While we at D2D enjoy shopping at the occasional farmer’s market, we had to ask ourselves – what food safety regulation applies to the food there? The same as or different than the fruits and vegetables we buy at the grocery store?
Growing popularity of U.S. farmers’ markets
Is it possible to buy locally AND buy safely?
This made us wonder if farmers’ markets can deliver on both the expectation of safe products and locally sourced food.
How safe is the produce you just bought from the local farmers’ market?
Do federal food safety regulations apply to locally grown products sold directly to consumers?
- Farming operations with less than $25,000 in food sales are completely exempt from food safety rules.
- Farms that gross between $25,000 and $500,000 annually and sell most of their food products (greater than 50%) directly to consumers, restaurants, or stores in their state or within 275 miles of their farm are exempt from the more rigorous and costly FSMA requirements (i.e., detailed record-keeping and technical reporting requirements).
- Farms grossing more than $500,000 annually to follow all applicable regulations and to undergo food safety inspections.
The bulk of farmers who sell their products at farmers’ markets qualify for one of these exemptions. FSMA requires farms grossing more than $500,000 annually to follow all applicable regulations and to undergo food safety inspections.
What do experts say about food safety and small producers?
Industry leaders have weighed in…
At the end of the day, we want our food to be safe regardless from where it comes from. However, there seems to be differences of opinion on whether small producers need to follow the same rules as large producers.
Farmer’s markets make their own policies
Critics of reduced requirements and exemptions warn small farmers and consumers: pathogens do not discriminate between small and large farms and local does not mean microbiologically safer.
State and local governments oversee farmers’ markets. For the most part, our research indicates that states rely on county health departments to regulate food safety at farmers’ markets and the health departments rely on market managers to enforce food safety practices at the market. Many state and local governments do not have adequate staffing to visit each local farmers’ market leaving food safety rule development and enforcement to the market manager.
Have there ever been foodborne illness outbreaks linked to food sold at farmers’ markets?
What are farmers’ markets doing to improve food safety?
Small farmers realize that food safety is crucial for business and protecting consumers.
So, Edrich Farms established their own food safety plan, and Amy spends extra time during the week on paperwork and testing to ensure their sprouts are safe. Many other small farmers are also starting their own food safety programs and implementing practices to keep produce safe.
How to be a proactive food safety shopper at your local farmers’ market
The Bottom Line:
As of now there is inconclusive evidence that products sold at farmers’ markets are in any way safer than those bought at a grocery store. On a federal and local level, many farmers selling at farmers’ markets are not regulated under FSMA. Market managers are typically in charge of food safety at the market, and the food safety policies related to both market and in-field practices vary from market to market. Nevertheless, even without federal regulation many small-scale farmers are implementing their own food safety programs to keep their businesses thriving and communities safe.
Reference for farmers’ market microbial surveys Bohaychuk VM, Bradbury RW, Dimock R, Fehr M, Gensler GE, King RK, Rieve R, Romero Barrios P. 2009.
A microbiological survey of selected Alberta-grown fresh produce from farmers’ markets in Alberta, Canada. Journal of Food Protection, 72(2):415-20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19350990
Levy DJ, Beck NK, Kossik AL, Patti T, Meschke JS, Calicchia M, Hellberg RS. 2015. Microbial safety and quality of fresh herbs from Los Angeles, Orange County and Seattle farmers’ markets. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 95(13):2641-5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25382560
Park CE, Sanders GW. 1992. Occurrence of thermotolerant campylobacters in fresh vegetables sold at farmers’ outdoor markets and supermarkets. Canadian Journal of Microbiology, 38(4):313-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1611556
Scheinberg JA, Dudley EG, Campbell J, Roberts B, DiMarzio M, DebRoy C, Cutter CN. 2017. Prevalence and phylogenetic characterization of Escherichia coli and hygiene indicator bacteria isolated from leafy green produce, beef, and pork obtained from farmers’ markets in Pennsylvania. Journal of Food Protection, 80(2):237-244. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28221988
Sirsat SA, Neal JA. 2013. Microbial profile of soil-free versus in-soil grown lettuce and intervention methodologies to combat pathogen surrogates and spoilage microorganisms on lettuce. Foods, 2(4):488-498. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5302277/
Soendjojo E. 2012. Is local produce safe? Journal of Purdue Undergraduate Research, 2:55-62. https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1022&context=jpur
Su Y, Hsu W, Simonee A, Huang T. 2014. Prevalence of Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Shigella in selected fresh produce from supermarkets, local markets and farmers’ markets. https://iafp.confex.com/iafp/2014/webprogram/Paper6353.html
Wood JL, Chen JC, Friesen E, Delaquis P, Allen KJ. 2015. Microbiological survey of locally grown lettuce sold at farmers’ markets in Vancouver, British Columbia. Journal of Food Protection, 78(1):203-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25581197
Resources: Barnett CA, Warfield, A. 2015. Flying under the radar of FSMA: The wild, wild, west of unregulated farmers’ markets. Accessed August 15, 2016. http://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/enewsletter/flying-under-the-radar-of-fsma-the-wild-wild-west-of-unregulated-farmers-markets/
Beecher C. 2013. Fresh produce at farmers’ markets exempt from new food safety regs. Food Safety News. Accessed August 15, 2016. http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/01/fresh-produce-at-farmers-markets-exempt-from-new-food-safety-regs/#.V7JScygrLct
Daigneau E. 2011. States ease farmers markets food safety regulations. Accessed August 15, 2016. http://www.governing.com/topics/economic-dev/gov-states-ease-farmers-markets-food-safety-regulations.html
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR). 2011. Powerful coalition gains exemption for small farmers. Accessed August 15, 2016. http://fcir.org/2011/10/14/powerful-coalition-gains-exemption-for-small-farmers/
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Snyder S. 2011. As farmers markets thrive, so do concerns. Accessed August 15, 2016. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/44701485/#.V7JQbigrLcu
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). 2016. USDA grants help specialty crop industry build food safety partnerships. Accessed August 15, 2016. http://blogs.usda.gov/2016/07/06/usda-grants-help-specialty-crop-industry-build-food-safety-partnerships/
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