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Tips for Farmers Market Food Vendors

Checking the temperature of apple cider jugs

Spring is in the air, which signals the return of the outdoor farmers market season. If you are 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.

If you plan to sell at farmers markets this year, you will 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.

University of Vermont 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. These are available at www.uvm.edu/extension/food. Click on "Food Safety for Producers and Processors," then "Publications."

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. Here are some points to keep in mind:

--Regardless of the size of your operation, if you are preparing foods at the market to sell, you will need a temporary food stand license from the Vermont Department of Health. This will require you to have 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, you are required to have a home or commercial caterer license.

--To sell red meat or inspected poultry, you will need a farmers market retail license, which is available from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.

--Selling more than $6,500 of baked goods annually? Then you will need to have 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 the Vermont Department of Health if you sell more than $10,000 worth of products per year.

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.

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