Spring's in the air, signaling the return of the outdoor farmers market season. If you're a food producer or processor, this is a great way to connect directly with customers, increase sales and get feedback from your customers on products.
But food safety regulations will gradually be getting more onerous due to the new Food Safety Modernization Act and subsequent changes in state rules and regulations, points out Londa Nwadike, University of Vermont Extension food safety specialist. So prepare now.
If you plan to sell at farmers markets this year, you'll need to follow food safety best practices and produce and process your food products established by state agencies, she adds. University of Vermont Extension has published a series of "Food Safety for Farmers Market Vendors" fact sheets, to help clarify regulatory requirements. They also list recommended best practices to ensure the safety of the various types of food offered at farmers markets.
You'll find these free fact sheets at www.uvm.edu/extension/food. Click on "Food Safety for Producers and Processors," then "Publications."
Best food vendor practices
Some key best practices for food vendors selling at farmers markets include:
•Cook, transport and hold foods at the proper temperatures to prevent rapid bacterial growth. Hot prepared foods must be held at 135 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Keep cold perishable foods between 32 to 40 degrees. Keep frozen foods at less than 15 degrees.
•Reduce possible cross-contamination -- transferring bacteria from one food to another. For example, be sure raw meat doesn't 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.
•If you hand out food samples, do so in a sanitary manner. Only put out small amounts at a time. and always keep perishable foods hot or cold, as appropriate.
•All products sold must follow proper labeling and temperature requirements. And, ingredients or foods used to prepare food for market must be from safe sources.
•If you are preparing foods at the market to sell, you'll likely need a temporary food stand license. Be prepared to meet specific state standards. Vermont Department of Health, for instance, requires a hand-washing station in your stand.
•If preparing ready-to-eat food at home to bring to the market packaged and ready for sale, in Vermont you're required to have a home or commercial caterer license.
•To sell red meat or inspected poultry in Vermont, you'll need a farmers market retail license, available from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.
•Selling more than $6,500 of baked goods annually? Then, Vermont requires a home bakery license.
•If selling jams, jellies, canned foods and all other types of processed foods at farmers markets, you must obtain a food processors' license from Vermont Department of Health if you sell more than$10,000 worth of products per year, notes Nwadike.