Farmers Markets
A Special Food Topic

Subject Matter Experts

 Special Acknowledgments




BU SPH and NEPHTC logos  



This training was supported by funds made available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support, under B01OT009024. Additionally, this training was supported by the Grant Number, 5U90TP116997-10, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. This project is also supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under grant UB6HP27877.

The views and opinions expressed as part of the training and all related documents and course materials are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions or the official position of, or endorsement by, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, its Public Health Emergency Preparedness Program, the Office of Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) Hospital Preparedness Program, or that of HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.



Farmers markets have become increasingly popular across the country and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports a continuing growth and demand for these markets. The same popularity has been observed in Massachusetts. Along with their rising popularity, there has been an increase in the variety of products sold. This training will focus on farmers markets that sell products other than whole, uncut fresh fruits and vegetables and includes a number of guides and other resources. Local boards of health (LBOH) should identify all farmers markets in their communities and work in partnership with vendors to ensure safe food handling practices and compliance with all applicable Massachusetts food regulations.

Before you begin this training, you should have completed Food Protection Programs for Massachusetts Regulators.

Learning Objectives

After completing this training, you will be able to:



The number of farmers markets in the USDA National Farmers Market Directory has more than quadrupled since 1994. In 1994, there were 1,755 markets listed. That number increased to 8,669 in 2016.

Graph showing farmers market count from 1994 through 2016

Farmers markets can be a benefit to small and medium-sized producers, consumers, and the community. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health Food Protection Program (FPP) partners with MDAR to develop guidelines and policies that support uniformity and consistency across the Commonwealth on matters related to farmers markets.

Although there is no regulatory definition, MDAR policy defines a farmers market as "a public market for the primary purpose of connecting and mutually benefiting Massachusetts farmers, communities, and shoppers while promoting and selling products grown and raised by participating farmers."

Traditional farmers markets sold locally-grown produce and farm products, but many have expanded their product lines to include processed foods. Depending on what products are sold, LBOH may have to permit and inspect farmers markets, including ones that sell meat, jams, jellies, and other food items. 


Think about your community. Do you have farmers markets?
Do you know what products are for sale?

According to State Sanitary Code: Chapter X, 105 CMR 590.000: Minimum Sanitation Standards for Food Establishments (590), produce stands that only offer whole, uncut fresh fruits and vegetables are exempt from the definition of a food establishment. Farmers markets that sell other food items are considered a food establishment and must comply with 590.



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Food Items of Special Concern

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 88% of all produce-related foodborne illness outbreaks are linked to the following five fruits and vegetables:

  1. Tomatoes (PDF)
  2. Melons (PDF)
  3. Lettuce and leafy greens (PDF)
  4. Sprouts
  5. Green onions (PDF)

Clicking on each of the foods above will bring you to food safety guidelines that are used for dealing with that particular food item.

The following photo album activity discusses some of the recent outbreaks resulting from these foods. Information about the outbreaks was compiled from these resources (PDF).




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Regulations, Laws, and Policies

In Massachusetts, 590 defines a food establishment as an operation that stores, prepares, serves, vends, or otherwise provides food for human consumption. Remember, this definition exempts produce stands that offer only whole, uncut fresh fruits and vegetables.

MGL Ch128 s1A defines farming, agriculture, and farming, and MGL Ch94 s305C gives MDPH the authority to license wholesale food processors and distributors, but exempts any person who is a purveyor of fresh fruits and vegetables or a farmer who produces and sells raw farm products, including eggs.

In order to balance food safety concerns with the increasing line of products offered at farmers markets, FPP developed a Farmers Market guidance document (No RF-08) (PDF). Print or save this document.  

Below is a summary of permit requirements and exemptions, based on the products for sale at farmers markets.  

Exempt from 590
(by definition)

Produce stands that offer only whole, uncut fresh fruits and vegetables

No Permit Required
(by policy or MGL)

Permit Required
(by regulation)

 See the Glossary of Terms (PDF) for more detail on each of the product categories.

Cider and Juice

Print or save the MDPH Processing Guidelines for Apple Cider (FP-06) (PDF).

Below is a summary of what juice and cider retail and wholesale establishment operators can sell at farmers markets.

Retail Establishment Operators

Can be a vendor at a farmers market and sell unpasteurized juice or cider.

Wholesale Establishment Operators

Can be a vendor at a farmers market and sell pasteurized juice or cider that is packaged or has achieved a 5-log pathogen reduction.



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Key LBOH Functions

The four key functions LBOH have to ensure that farmers markets comply with 590 are:

  1. Monitoring farmers markets
  2. Reviewing permit applications
  3. Conducting inspections and issuing permits
  4. Taking further enforcement action (if necessary)

Each function will be described in more detail below.

1. Monitoring Farmers Markets

Not all farmers market vendors or managers will contact their LBOH, so you may have to identity or find farmers markets in your community in order to ensure compliance with 590.


Are you aware of farmers markets in your community?
If not, how can you find out about them?

Farmers markets may require other municipal licenses or permits, so check with other agencies (building, fire, police, schools, parks) for a list of farmers markets they've permitted. Be aware of flyers, banners, newspaper and radio advertisements, and web postings advertising local events (call organizers to gather more information if necessary). Contact the local visitor's association or chamber of commerce and check websites (like that list farmers market locations.


2. Reviewing Permit Applications

You must review all application materials. You can request additional information if needed.

Even though some farmers markets are organized by a single entity or manager, permits should be issued to individual vendors. One farmers market may have multiple permits. LBOH may charge reasonable fees for permits.



3. Conducting Inspections and Issuing Permits

If an application is approved, you should schedule and conduct a pre-opening inspection. If the vendor appears to be in compliance with 590, a permit should be issued. Additional inspections should be conducted according to the frequency outlined in 590.

The activity box below describes seven key food safety parameters that should be considered as part of the permit application review. These parameters should be monitored during an inspection, along with other 590 standards.



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Raw Produce Tips

The FDA provides tips for selecting and serving raw produce safely. The chart below outlines key responsibilities of producers, growers, vendors, and regulators to ensure farmers markets provide safe food products.


Producers and Growers

Should use good agricultural practices (GAP) and consider:

Farmers Market Vendors

Should use GAP, or purchase from producers or growers who use GAP and:


Should assess farmers markets in the community, and:


4. Taking Further Enforcement Action (if necessary)

Based on application review or inspection findings, you may have to take action to achieve compliance with 590.

These actions might include:

  1. Prohibiting unsafe food-handling operations and/or the sale of certain food items
  2. Verifying variances with or without a HACCP plan
  3. Pursuing other enforcement actions according to 590

Inspector in Action Activity

You will now play the role of a LBOH food inspector and carry out the four key functions in a scenario that involves multiple vendors at a farmers market that is happening in your town.

Remember, the four key LBOH functions to ensure compliance include:

  1. Monitoring farmers markets
  2. Reviewing permit applications
  3. Conducting inspections and issuing permits
  4. Taking further enforcement action (if necessary)

This activity focuses on taking further necessary enforcement action. Click the image below to begin the activity. (Note: The activity will open in a new tab)

Farmers Market Scenario  



Conclusion and Additional Resources

Congratulations! You have completed the training.

Print or save this Job Aid (PDF) that summarizes the key points.

Review of Learning Objectives

You are now able to:

If you feel you need additional exposure to this material, you may repeat the training or return to any of the pages at any time.

Additional Resources

If you would like further information about this topic, please consult the following websites and articles.

Food - Food Safety at the Farmers Market

Massachusetts Farmers Markets Website

Massachusetts Farmers Markets Frequently Asked Questions

MDAR Policy for Farmers Markets (PDF)

MDPH Shellfish at Farmers Markets Guidance Document SF-10 (PDF)

USDA Farmers Market Website

USDA Farmers Market Services FactSheet (PDF).

Certificate of Completion

Thank you for taking this training! We hope you will take another one soon.

If you planned to receive a certificate of completion, you should have completed the pre-test before starting this training. Now, please complete the post-test and evaluation for your certificate.

Click on the link below. Once you complete the post-test and evaluation, your certificate of completion will appear in your learner profile and you will have the option to print or save it.