What Foods are Sold with Restrictions at a Farmers’ Market?

Farmers' MarketRestrictions and prohibitions on what foods can be sold and how they must be handled vary from state to state and from community to community.  You might find the rules  in your state and community listed online.


Regulations about foods commonly differentiate between those that are potentially hazardous  and those that are not.  Some farmers’ markets may prohibit all potentially hazardous ones, but most prohibit only some of these and stipulate how those they allow must be handled.  Some foods classified as potentially hazardous include dairy products, meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, sliced melons, raw sprouts, cut tomatoes, tofu, and garlic-in-oil mixtures.   All of these must be kept at the proper cool temperatures to avoid a dangerous level of pathogens. 


Also, many markets require that processed foods sold there be prepared in inspected certified or commercial kitchens, not private homes. Many require processed food  to be labeled so that customers know the source and the ingredients. (“Processed food” includes anything not in its original form—for example, anything cut , mixed with other foods, or cooked.)  It’s also common to have regulations requiring the wrapping or packaging of processed products (cheese, bakery goods, and other edibles).


Listed below are just some of the  regulations common at farmers’ markets.  This list may give you some ideas about what to look for  to reassure yourself  that the market you’re shopping at is a safe place to buy food.


Ready-to-eat foods: Ready-to-eat foods (those  not cooked by the buyer before consuming) carry some risk of contamination.  Examples are apples, grapes, salads, baked goods, nuts out of the shell, sandwiches, open cheese and dips.


Bakery goods:  Non-potentially hazardous products include bread, cookies, and fruit pies.  Potentially hazardous ones include those containing  cream, custard, or eggs, for example, pumpkin pie and pastries with cream or custard fillings.  Some farmers’ markets will not allow these; others will if they’re refrigerated or kept below 41°F. with ice.


Eggs:  These are commonly sold at farmers’ markets if farmers can keep them at a cool temperature.


Honey: Some markets require that  honey come from an inspected source; others don’t.  Some honey is heat-treated to minimize mold spores.  Honey that contains added sugar cannot be called honey.


Unpasteurized juices: The K•State source by Karen Gast (listed below) says the following:  “The sale of unpasteurized juices should be discouraged for safety sake.”  These could contain E.coli pathogens, which can lead to serious illness. Some farmers’ markets will not allow the sale of apple juice, orange juice,  and so on if it’s unpasteurized.  Others allow unpasteurized beverages with a warning that customers consume it at their own risk.


Raw (unpasteurized) milk, cheese, and other dairy products: These are usually prohibited or sold with a “consume at your own risk” warning. 


Processed vegetables:  Botulism is caused by spores that can grow easily  in a “friendly” low-acid environment that contains no air. Vegetables that are canned (in glass jars) or tightly sealed in vacuum packaging could become tainted with the pathogens that cause botulism. Other items that are health risks for the same reason are salad dressings, garlic-in-oil mixtures, salsa, soups, and dips.  Farmers’ markets usually either prohibit these or  require proof that they were made in an inspected, certified kitchen.  The main fear is that, if (for example) the canned vegetables are homemade, they may not have been heated to a high enough temperature to kill dangerous spores.  The USDA recommends 212°F for tomatoes (which is not  low-acid) but 240°F for both onions and peppers, which are low-acid foods (as all  vegetables are).


Samples: Markets generally require that apple slices, cheese chunks, or other edible samples must be served with one-use, disposable utensils (such as paper plates, plastic forks, or toothpicks).  The vendor preparing these items may be required to wear gloves.


Foods usually considered nonhazardous:  These include  whole vegetables with a hard skin that arepurchased to cook at home,  honey, regular (not low sugar)  jams and jellies, dried noodles, nuts in the shell, dried herbs and spices, herb vinegars, and some bakery products, among other items.  These are usually sold at many farmers’ markets with few or  no requirements for special handling.  Candy is also considered nonhazardous since the high sugar content is a preservative.


Below are some other FAQs about Farmers' Markets that you may find helpful and interesting.  Just click on the question to find out the answer:


Exactly what defines a farmers’ market? 

Why are farmers’ markets so popular?

What should I bring to the farmers’ market?

What time of day is it best to go to a farmers’ market?

What signs indicate a sanitary farmers’ market?

How should I handle produce at home?

How can I locate a farmers' market in my area? 




K-State (Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service)  “Food Safety for Farmers’ Markets”

Purdue University, Purdue Extension: New Ventures in Food and Agriculture for Indiana

“Food Safety Regulations for Farmers’ Markets

Susan Brewer, Ph.D. University of Illinois, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

“Frequently Asked Questions on Food Regulations for Small Market Food Producers”

Illinois Department of Public Health  “Sanitation Guidelines for Farmers Markets, Producer Markets and Other Outdoor Food Sales Events”


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