Food safety: Resources for farmers markets vendors


With the farmers market season arriving nationwide, Penn State Extension has educational materials on controlling food safety risks from farm to fork — including a resource guide and an online course — that are available to vendors and producers.

The course curriculum arose from a 2018 study conducted by researchers in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences who found that many vendors at Pennsylvania farmers markets take insufficient precautions to prevent the spread of foodborne illness. Led by Catherine Cutter, professor of food science and Penn State Extension assistant director for food safety and quality programs, researchers tested samples of leafy green produce and meat obtained from vendors for the presence of hygiene indicators such as fecal coliforms, Listeria, and E. coli.

In many of the samples, they found cause for concern.

While observing vendors at farmers markets, researchers witnessed high-risk behaviors in the areas of hand washing, cross-contamination and personal hygiene. Seeing a need for education around food-safety risks, researchers developed a curriculum for Penn State Extension to train farmers market vendors on best practices in food safety.

Through a combination of videos and readings, the Farmers Market Food Safety course focuses on teaching new and established farmers market vendors the basics of food safety and sanitation.

The course takes approximately four hours to complete, and participants gain access for 365 days. Registration costs $39. The course covers how to:

  • Evaluate potential risks related to food safety from harvest through point of sale.
  • Equip and operate food-safe facilities.
  • Source and purchase ingredients.
  • Handle and prepare food properly.
  • Identify on-site food safety procedures.
  • Know what is needed for proper record keeping and food or ingredient traceability.
  • Recognize potential liability issues.

The course provides printable fact sheets on topics such as biological contaminants, types of cleaners, cleaning procedures, hand washing, and sanitary practices. In addition, participants can access an event checklist that covers steps involved in preparing and setting up a farmers market stand.

Another Penn State Extension resource, the Farmers Market Food Safety Resource Guide, provides in-depth education on food safety concepts from farm to market. According to its authors, the guide includes practical tips and checklists to help vendors follow food safety standards. The guide costs $17. More information is available on the Penn State Extension website.

Ensuring the safety of food is one of the most important responsibilities for anyone who harvests, processes, prepares, or sells food.

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