Farmers Market FAQ
Food Sales at Farmers Markets:
Frequently Asked Questions
Information for Market Managers and Vendors from the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development
Farmers markets are a traditional link between local food producers and consumers. Farmers markets enhance the sense of community and provide a source for locally grown and produced food and agriculture products. Across Michigan, farmers markets vary in the types and varieties of foods offered for sale from agricultural producers directly to the consumer.
It is generally the Market Manager's responsibility to enforce the vendor requirements set by market policy. Market Managers must also be aware of the requirements of Michigan's Food Law as they apply to farmers markets, although responsibility for the enforcement of those requirements falls to the local Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (MDARD) food inspector.
Food vendors and Market Managers may contact MDARD toll-free at 1-800-292-3939 if they have questions about the standards for vending foods at any given farmers market in Michigan.
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions regarding certain types of food sales in a farmers market setting:
Q: We would like to host a series of cooking demonstrations at our farmers market where we would invite guest chefs, MSUE educators, dietitians, vendors, and others to showcase fresh, seasonal ingredients available at our market. What type of license do we need and how much will it cost?
A: A farmers market can apply for a MDARD food establishment license. This will include a one-time plan review fee and an annual license fee.
Q: My organization runs three farmers markets in two different counties. What type of licensing options are available to us?
A: Organizations that run multiple markets in different areas should consider a MDARD food establishment license for each of the fixed locations, an STFU license through their local health department, or a temporary license through their local health department for one-time only events.
Q: As a market manager, what should I expect when a MDARD inspector comes to my farmers market?
A: An inspector visit will typically include introductions, a short meeting and a tour of the market to observe actual operations. An inspector will do:
- A licensing evaluation for operations directly licensed through the market, such as cooking demonstrations. This will include identification of priority, priority foundation and core violations.
- A general consultative review of the other market operations which may include:
- a general site inspection,
- determine if food samples by vendors are being offered per MDARD guidelines,
- determine if vendors operating under a license extension are in compliance with their own license,
- assuring that all vendors needing a licensed have one,
- determine if license exempt operations, such as cottage food vendors, are operating properly and
- A written report documenting legal and consultative food safety concerns observed will be provided to the Market Manager.
Q: As a market manager, when should I contact MDARD and when do I need to contact my local health department?
A: MDARD will be the primary contact for farmers markets since they are predominately retail. However, local health remains the primary contact for any event that is predominately food service including all ready-to-eat foods prepared and served by market vendors.
1. Who is exempt from licensing?
There are several exemptions from licensing based on law and policy. Please see Licensing at Farmers Markets for a list of definitions and exemptions.
2. What are the requirements for a farmer selling fresh fruit and/or vegetables at a farmers market?
There are no licensing requirements for farmers selling fresh, whole, uncut fruits and vegetables at a farmers market in Michigan. However, fresh fruits and vegetables must be handled safely and protected from contamination. Although consumers are responsible for washing produce prior to use, MDARD recommends that a sign be placed at the point of sale to remind customers to wash produce before eating.
3. A farmer sells a salad mixture of assorted lettuce leaves and other greens from an open box (in bulk). Since the lettuce leaves are intact and not cut, is a license required and are there any food safety concerns?
So long as the lettuce leaves remain intact and undamaged when de-stemmed, a license would not be required at the farmer's own packing facility or the farmers market. However, the lettuce or other greens must be handled safely and protected from contamination. Although the consumer is responsible for washing the salad mixture prior to use, MDARD recommends that a sign be placed at the point-of-sale to remind customers that this produce should be washed before eating since it is in a ready-to-eat form. Assorted salad greens can also be packaged in the same bag. Again, no license is required as long as the lettuce leaves remain intact and undamaged when de-stemming.
4. A farmer uses cabbage and carrots of his own production to prepare a coleslaw base. What are the requirements?
Whole, uncut produce is considered raw and unprocessed and can be sold without restriction by a vendor; however, coleslaw base involves cutting or shredding the vegetables.
Once cut, vegetables fall into the category of processed food. Such a process is permitted only at an approved, licensed location. Therefore coleslaw base cannot typically be prepared at a farmers market, at a temporary event, or at an unlicensed location such as a person's residence.
If produced at a licensed location, packaged coleslaw base must be labeled in full accordance with current state and federal requirements and held under refrigeration.
If the farmer owns a licensed processing facility, a separate license is not required to sell the product at a farmers market. If the vendor is not the grower of the raw produce used to make the coleslaw base, a food establishment license is required for sales at a farmers market.
5. Can a vendor sell unpasteurized apple cider? Does the product have to be refrigerated?
There have been recent changes in requirements for apple cider operators. A cider maker who sells the product only directly to consumers is considered a retailer. Retailers may produce and sell unpasteurized cider, but the container must be prominently labeled with the FDA-approved warning statement:
Warning: This product has not been pasteurized and therefore, may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.
Thus, owners of a licensed retail cider mill may sell unpasteurized cider of their own production at a farmers market. No additional license is required.
On occasion, the owner of an orchard will take apples to a cider mill and have cider manufactured from that fruit. The owner of the mill presses, bottles, and labels the cider as a paid service. This is called custom pressing. Effective January 3, 2004, cider produced under these circumstances must be pasteurized or otherwise treated by an approved system.
The grower in this situation may sell only pasteurized cider. Any person who purchases cider from a manufacturer and sells it at a farmers market may sell only pasteurized cider. In both of these cases the vendor must hold a food establishment license to sell cider at a farmers market.
While apple cider does not necessarily have to be sold from a refrigerated display at a farmers market, MDARD recommends that the vendor provide some method of temperature control during the transport, storage, and sale of the product.
6. Are there requirements for those selling honey or maple syrup?
Under the Michigan Food Law of 2000, honey or maple syrup retail outlets and processing facilities operated by the producer are exempt from licensure, if gross sales are $15,000 or less. Honey and maple syrup producers who meet licensing exemptions must follow labeling requirements for their honey and maple syrup and must meet all requirements of the Michigan Food Law, including sanitation, building construct and design, processing requirements, employee hygiene, etc. Honey and maple syrup producers can wholesale their products, including to grocery stores and other retailers who will then resell them, as long as they are labeled correctly. Those reselling honey or maple syrup that they did not produce themselves must be licensed as a retail food establishment. There are also additional labeling requirements and licensing exemptions for honey and maple syrup, similar to Cottage Food exemptions.
7. Does an egg producer selling shell eggs at the farmers market need to keep those eggs refrigerated? Is the producer permitted to re-use labeled egg cartons bearing another distributor's name and address on the carton?
There are no specific requirements for egg producers selling directly to a consumer or a first receiver. Maintaining eggs at 45ºF for safety, cleaning eggs and packing eggs in clean, properly labeled containers is recommended.
Licensed food establishments can obtain eggs directly from the producer if the producer is a MDARD licensed processing establishment. Michigan food laws require that egg processors (i.e. those that clean, grade or break eggs) be licensed by MDARD. The Food Code, section 3-202.13 requires food establishments to receive eggs that are clean and sound and be grade AA, A,or B. Eggs must be held at refrigeration temperatures. Egg cartons or other packaging materials must be clean and properly labeled.
8. What are the requirements for a farmer selling meat and poultry at a farmers market?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires that persons slaughtering and selling beef, pork, lamb, or more than 20,000 poultry per year operate under continuous, federal inspection. A USDA seal of inspection must appear on all packages of meat originating at such a plant.
Farmers may sell the meat from their animals at a farmers market if it was processed at a USDA inspected facility. Small poultry producers may have their birds processed either at a USDA inspected plant or an MDARD inspected plant. If the product originates at an MDARD-inspected facility, it is necessary to have a copy of the MDARD license on hand at the farmers market for the reference of the Market Manager or local food inspector. If the vendor isn't the producer of the animals from which the meat is derived, the vendor is required to hold a food establishment license at the farmers market.
Selling packaged meat at the farmers market requires sanitary handling and temperature control. Packaged meats may be sold frozen, or refrigerated at 41°F or below. Handling of exposed, unpackaged meat or poultry is not permitted at a typical farmers market.
9. Can a food vendor offer samples for immediate consumption at farmers markets? Can a vendor offer grilled samples of bratwurst, for example, while selling raw meats at the market?
Vendors at farmers markets may provide food samples as long as they follow the Guidelines for Providing Safe Food Samples at Farmers Markets.
10. What are the requirements for selling fresh caught lake fish?
Fish sold at farmers markets must come from a commercial fisherman or a licensed distributor. Fish must be eviscerated before sale and must be held at 41°F or below. If frozen, fish must remain in a frozen state (no on-site thawing allowed).
11. A vendor sells wild mushrooms at a farmers market. The mushrooms were harvested in a forest. What concerns are associated with the practice and what requirements apply?
If the collector is not an expert at identifying edible wild plants and mushrooms, there is a danger that poisonous varieties were harvested. Consumption of certain varieties can lead to illness or death.
In some states, farmers markets require mushroom vendors to sign agreements releasing the municipality and Market Manager from damage claims in the event of the illness or death of a consumer. Insurance underwriters associated with municipal sponsors of farmers markets may require the municipality to carry additional liability insurance. Other restrictions may include limiting mushroom varieties to certain of the more common ones like morel, oyster, sulfur shelf, and chanterelles.
To be approved to sell wild mushrooms, wild herbs, or other wild plants in Michigan, the vendor must satisfy all of the following provisions:
- The seller must be recognized as appropriately trained and competent in the identification of safe botanical and mycological varieties. Alternatively, the seller may employ a recognized expert.
- The seller shall qualify as an approved mushroom identification expert through successful completion of a wild mushroom foraging certification program recognized by the MDARD Food & Dairy Division.
- Each individual wild mushroom shall be inspected and identified by the recognized expert. Only those identified as safe may be sold.
- Each storage container of mushrooms shall be labeled with the scientific and common name of the mycological variety. Packaged mushrooms may be identified by the common name only and shall bear additional labeling in full accordance with current state and federal requirements.
- Written records that indicate the quantity, variety, expert identifier, and buyer of the mushrooms shall be retained by the packer for a period of not less than two years. These records shall be made available for MDARD examination, upon request.
- Wild mushrooms shall be handled and protected from contamination in accordance with all current state and federal regulations associated with the handling and processing of foods intended for human consumption.
- The vendor is not presently required to hold a license from MDARD for any given farmers market; however, slicing or other processing or warehousing of wild mushrooms must take place in an approved food establishment licensed by MDARD or a local health department.
12. Is there a problem if a vendor wants to sell garlic or herbs in oil?
Flavored and infused oils have gained popularity, but the risks associated with products of this nature must be well understood. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all commercial processors to acidify the garlic or herbs in oil mixtures, and to test these foods for safety.
In Michigan, flavored oils offered for sale must be manufactured in approved, licensed establishments. If this requirement is met, and the vendor owns the licensed plant, no additional license is required at the farmers market to sell those products. If the vendor buys the products on the open market for resale at the farmers market, a food establishment license is required.
13. What about sales of bulk baked goods like bagels?
Vendors are discouraged from simply purchasing bulk baked goods and selling them out of covered containers each week at a farmers market. In order to sell bagels or other bread products, cookies, doughnuts or other sweet goods at a farmers market, the vendor must have an approved, licensed base location to handle the food, clean and sanitize containers and utensils, etc. These activities may not be conducted in a private residence, unless operating under the Cottage Food exemptions in the Michigan Food Law.
If the vendor owns a bagel shop, bakery, or similar establishment, the bulk goods sold at a farmers market must be:
o Sold from an enclosed sanitary container;
o Handled with tongs or gloves as no bare hand contact with finished product is permitted
The vendor must also:
o Have access to a conveniently located hand washing facility at the farmers market;
o Return to a licensed base of operations to clean and sanitize food equipment such as tongs and containers.
o Otherwise, a vendor may offer packaged baked goods that have been produced and packaged at an approved, licensed facility. If the vendor is not the owner of such a facility, the vendor must hold a food establishment license at the farmers market.
Due to potential contamination concerns, further preparation or assembly by the vendor, such as the spreading of cream cheese or fruit preserves on bagels, may trigger additional licensing requirements. This can be avoided by providing, for example, individual packets of cream cheese and wrapped plastic knives for customers to use after the transaction has been completed. Please contact your local food inspector for a review of your food preparation process to determine licensing requirements.
Additional questions or requests for clarification from Market Managers, vendors or consumers may be directed to the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development toll-free at 1-800-292-3939. Some Market Managers have a close working relationship with the local MDARD food inspector and may make direct inquiries in the manner upon which both have agreed.
14. What about a vendor who operates a hot dog cart, makes snow cones, hand dips ice cream, prepares sandwiches, or engages in any similar food service activity?
Local health departments regulate the on-site preparation and sale of food for immediate consumption. A food service establishment license must be obtained from the local health department whenever food is prepared for direct consumption. Some vendors may operate a special transitory food unit (STFU) that is licensed on an annual basis. Those vendors are not required to obtain a separate license for each temporary event. Contact your local health department for further information.
15. What are the regulations regarding dogs at farmers markets?
It is important to protect food from any potential contamination from animals in the market. Animals are legally not permitted in licensed food establishments. This means that dogs are not allowed in the space of any vendor who has an MDARD food establishment license. MDARD and MIFMA recommend that market managers prohibit dogs from vendor spaces in order to keep dogs away from food handling, display and storage. Animals that belong to customers are allowed in open-air pathways, but it is recommended that markets require animals to be kept on leashes. Service animals that are controlled by the disabled employee or person are allowed at markets as long as a health or safety hazard does not result from the presence of the service animal.
16. What are the regulations regarding smoking at farmers markets?
Smoking is prohibited in all food establishments in Michigan. This includes licensed vendor space and enclosed market areas at farmers markets. MIFMA and MDARD encourage markets to establish market policies to restrict or discourage smoking in open space market areas to limit possible contamination of food from smoke.