Assessment of food safety compliance to federal, state and local regulations within NYS capital region farmers markets: An investigation of current facilitators, barriers, and future opportunities to increase food safety, 2020

Patricia Miller of the State University of New York at Albany writes in her Doctor of Public Health dissertation that within the United States there are over 8,000 farmers markets, that sell directly to consumers. New York State has the second-largest number of markets, at 637, with the capital region host to 114 markets.

Over the years the selections of offerings have grown to include not only produce but ready-to-eat foods, eggs, dairy products, crafts, beer, and wine. The increasing popularity of farmers markets coupled with inadequate regulatory oversight of these markets, can contribute to incidences of foodborne illnesses.

The Centers for Disease Control identified 95 foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States potentially associated with fairs, festivals, and temporary mobile services from 1988-2007, which resulted in almost 4,000 illnesses, including 144 hospitalizations (Centers for Disease Control, 2008). Of these markets, six are held year-round.

This research undertook a needs assessment to identify gaps in food safety as it related to compliance with regulations required by federal, state, and local government by farmers markets and their vendors. This was a multimethod study utilizing content of each farmers markets rules compared to regulations, direct observations of vendor behaviors, and data collection through observation of physical characteristics of the markets, and interviews with market managers. Market compliance was measured by analysis of market rules to key rules and regulations required through the Federal Food Code, and by the New York State Temporary Food Service Establishments Regulations. These rules included adherence to minimal cooking of foods, maintaining and monitoring temperatures of foods, hand hygiene requirements, prevention of cross-contamination, and storage of food. These regulations address transportation of food to the markets, into the markets, display of food, and serving of food.

Data collection through observation of each markets was done to assess market facilities, and direct observations were made of vendors during market operations on multiple occasions. Results showed many markets lacked clearly defined rules, and resources, including handwashing stations, as regulated, were not in evidence. Observational data collection showed that these markets did not comply with the New York State Department of Health Temporary Establishments Regulations and that the vendor behaviors did not meet food code requirements. In addition, this study looked to identify facilitators and barriers to safe food handling behaviors. A lack of handwashing facilities and thermometers were found to be barriers to safe food handling at these markets.

While implementing more rules or changing policies may improve these behaviors, enforcement of the required rules would be a better method to decrease these barriers. Inspection by local authorities may improve compliance to regulations as may providing resources to the vendors.

Farmers’ market peas in Green Bay linked to salmonellosis cases

When our group started working with farmers markets a few years ago we created a strong partnership with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Together, with funding from the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund, we developed best practices and engage directly with market managers and vendors through workshops and on-site visits. Since 2010 the curriculum we developed has been delivered to over 1000 managers and vendors and we’ve got some data that shows it led to some infrastructure and practice changes. Since then we’ve been working with others at Virginia Tech, University of Georgia, University of Arkansas and the University of Houston to take our vendor stuff national and couple it with other materials on that colleagues have developed.

Both of these projects were a result of wanting to help protect public health – and the farmers’ markets – from outbreaks. There haven’t been many farmers’ market-linked outbreaks reported. But one popped up today.

According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, four cases of salmonellosis have been linked to shelled peas from a vendor at a couple of farmers’ markets.

Authorities believe the cases stem from consumption of peas sold at a July 22 farmers market in Green Bay, said Anna Destree, Brown County’s health officer.

County authorities are reminding people to follow proper procedures for washing and preparing vegetables, but say there is no need to panic.

“There’s no need for people to say, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t buy peas,'” Flynt said. “They just need to follow proper washing and food-handling procedures.”

Officials said any shelled peas purchased from downtown Green Bay farmers markets between July 19 and Aug. 5 should be thrown out.

Flynt did not have any word on the conditions of the county residents who were infected.

I don’t know who Flynt is, but blaming consumers isn’t a good idea. There’s no info as to whether these peas were consumed raw, whether cross-contamination was a factor – and c’mon, can someone show some data that says washing peas would be an effective risk reduction step here?

Here’s an infosheet on asking questions at farmers’ markets. Stuff like how do you keep Salmonella off of my peas.

PA farmers markets not worried about new regs

When our group started working with farmers markets a few years ago we created a strong partnership with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Together, with funding from the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund, we developed best practices and engage directly with market managers and vendors through workshops and on-site visits. Since 2010 the curriculum we developed has been delivered to over 1000 managers and vendors and we’ve got some data that shows it led to some infrastructure and practice changes.3dc74983-7588-4da1-b8b7-2765e7105519

The Daily American reports that Pennsylvania farmers markets will soon be required to address food safety more stringently.

Producers selling at farmers’ markets will soon have to abide by some extra rules. Officials from the local farmers markets do not seem to think it will present much of a problem, because local producers already are very safety conscious when growing and handling their product. They sell directly to their buyer and want to provide a safe quality product, to insure customer satisfaction and repeat sales.

“The regulations shouldn’t be that big of deal for our market,” Larry Cogan, president of the Somerset County Farmers’ Market said. “The producers are already doing a good job of properly growing and handling the produce to prevent contamination of E. coli (and other stuff? -ben). The chain is very short from producer to consumer and easy to trace if there was a problem. Our market is a ‘producers only’ market, meaning that the products are marketed by the people who have grown or produced it.”

Short distribution chains might make tracing easier – but don’t really mean much when it comes to keeping pathogens off of food in the first place.

Cogan felt that the new rules would be more of a problem for larger commercial produce growers where produce is shipped to many different locations and then is resold to other markets. At farmers’ markets, producers sell directly to the consumer. Also, in commercial markets the number of people handling produce is greater, and all employees would have to be trained about proper washing of vegetables, personal hygiene and hand washing prior to handling the produce.

“It is mostly just using common sense about washing produce, and hand washing after using the restroom,” Cogan said. “Our food system in the United States is great! It’s the safest food supply around.”

“It’s the responsibility of the market vendors to follow all rules and regulations regarding the products that they sell here,” Jim Green, market manager of the Springs Farmers’ Market, said. “Such as making sure that meats and cheeses are kept in coolers or having kitchens inspected. The vendors do a good job of handling their foods safely. Many of the vendors are aware of new rules and regulations as soon as they are announced.”

Throughout our project, former graduate student Allison Smathers saw some risky practices when it came to providing samples – stuff like dirty equipment and a lack of hand washing. And using untreated water for handwashing.

Eleven private wells in Kewaunee County that were being tested as part of a DNR-funded study showed the presence of salmonella and/or rotavirus, the Department of Natural Resources announced late Monday.

The samples were taken April 18, according to Mark Borchardt of the USDA Agricultural Service, who is conducting tests as part of a larger DNR study of the county’s wells. The 11 wells were among 30 that were randomly selected from 110 wells that were found to be contaminated in samples taken last November, Borchardt said.

All the farmers’ market food safety stuff we have can be found here.

Nova Scotia health inspectors apologize to breastfeeding farmers’ market vendor

From the no-risk-assessment-in-sight files, the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture has apologized to Tanessa Holt, owner of Food Noise, after citing her for food safety violations for breastfeeding while selling food.

According to media reports and her Facebook page Holt’s risk management strategy wasn’t good enough for the initial inspector.tanessa-holt

Holt writes:

I recently received a call from a food safety representative informing me that I cannot nurse my child at my booth as it is a violation of the food safety regulations.

I explained that there is a handwashing station behind my booth, I have gloves for handling food and that I am always more than covered when nursing. Further, my food is served in closed containers.

Despite this I was informed that I will have to have someone else sit with me the entire day to handle food if I nurse my child even once during the day while at the market.

CTV News reports in a follow-up that Holt received an email from higher-ups apologizing for the misunderstanding.

“I am happy to receive an apology, because I thought it was outrageous to begin with,” she told

Holt has been selling dry food items, including granola and oatmeal, at several markets in the Halifax area since last August.

Holt explained that her food is served in containers, that she uses gloves and a nearby hand washing station, and that she covers up while nursing. Still, she was told that she would have to get another person to handle the food if she is breastfeeding her son.

As that is not a feasible option for her, she had decided to pull out of the farmers’ markets altogether.

In the apology, the department said that the message from the food safety inspector was a “misunderstanding,” and Holt was welcome to breastfeed her son at the market so long as she followed proper hand-washing procedures.


Rolling Acres unpasteurized apple cider linked to a mysterious number of illnesses in Ontario

Hallowe’en in North Carolina is kind of awesome. Unlike my childhood where I had to wear a ski jacket underneath my Superman costume, tonight’s temps in Raleigh will be in the 60s. Capitalizing on the nice weather, our neighborhood will look like a street party. Beyond the traditional candy, chocolate and boxes of raisins, some folks will give out hot dogs and hot chocolate to adults; others will have apple cider.20141030ba_1414719717551_eng

I’ll be asking whether the cider is pasteurized.

According the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) unpasteurized apple cider at the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market in Waterloo, Ontario (thats in Canada) has been linked to an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7. How many cases and hospitalizations and where the cider was consumed is still a mystery (to me at least, it’s not listed on the CFIA website).

Rolling Acres Cider Mill is recalling unpasteurized apple cider from the marketplace due to possible E. coliO157:H7 contamination.

The following products have been sold by Rolling Acres Cider Mill at the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market located in Waterloo, Ontario on October 11, 2014 and from the company’s own location in Waterloo, Ontario between October 10, 2014 and October 11, 2014.

This recall was triggered by findings by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) during its investigation into a foodborne illness outbreak. The CFIA is conducting a food safety investigation, which may lead to the recall of other products. If other high-risk products are recalled, the CFIA will notify the public through updated Food Recall Warnings.

There have been reported illnesses associated with the consumption of these products.

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Asking questions at the farmers’ market

Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 8.46.11 AMA couple weeks ago I took my kids to the farmers’ market. Sam, who is 3, is all about food shopping: picking out what the family will be eating while trying to convince me to buy him treats and snacking on the free samples. While Jack and Dani were looking at plants for our gardens, Sam and I toured the food stalls. We came upon a vendor selling cider (right, exactly as shown).

Worrying more about my kids safety than looking like a nerd, I asked, “Is it pasteurized?”

The dude at the stall answered, “It sure is, flash pasteurized to keep it safe.”


My friend Judy Harrison writes in this month’s Food Safety Magazine that farmers’ markets continue to increase as a place for folks to connect with their food.

Visiting with your neighbors, listening to live music while shopping, meeting the farmer who grew the produce, sampling the fresh food in the market, the festival-like atmosphere…that is the downhome feel that has Americans flocking to farmers markets.

Who are the customers shopping at these markets? It takes only a trip on an early Saturday morning to see that many of the customers are senior adults, people who may have health problems and mothers with young children all shopping for foods they perceive to be healthier and safer than those you buy in the grocery store. What is often casually observed is an attitude, not just among consumers but among farmers and market managers as well, that “It’s locally grown…I know that farmer…It’s organic…so it is healthier and safer than what I could get at the store.”

If you took a tour of your local farmers market, what would you see? Many local markets are held in open fields in city parks or even in parking lots. Conditions may be less than sanitary. You are likely to observe fruits and vegetables displayed on the ground rather than being held at least six inches above this surface, as would be required in food storage areas of restaurants or grocery stores. You are also likely to encounter customers or even vendors bringing their dogs into the market area and having access to displays. You may or may not see handwashing facilities or at least hand sanitizer being provided in the market. Some of the produce may already be packaged in open bags for customers to pick up, or customers may be allowed to handle and select their own produce. You may even see stations where customers can bring produce they have just purchased to be juiced or blended into healthy shakes—with no evidence of facilities for washing produce, hands or equipment. You may see displays where customers can sample cut produce that is not being kept on ice or refrigerated. You may also see entrepreneurs who are making and selling food products that you hope are at least following cottage food regulations. As a food safety professional, you see opportunities for increased risk of foodborne illness.

Judy’s comments are bang-on, lots of people shop at the farmers market, have various perceptions and may not see the world through the eyes of a food microbiologist. The conversation I had with the cider vendor led me to revisit a project idea we’ve had steeping for a while: what questions do I ask at the farmers’ market – and what do I think the answers should be? Stuff like what does the producer do to evaluate the safety of the water they use, do they use composted manure, how do they handle ill staff who show up to pick?

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I have linked a draft of a document that captures those questions and more and I’m asking the online food safety nerds to share additional thoughts and questions to make the document more robust. Feel free to add a comment here on the blog, tweet @benjaminchapman, post a comment on our Facebook page or use old fashioned e-mail.



Asking questions at the farmers’ market

A couple of times a week I take Sam, our three year old, grocery shopping. The kid is all about picking out what the family will be eating while trying to convince me to buy him treats and snacking on the free samples. This weekend I’m going to take him to the farmers’ market with the hopes that North Carolina strawberries will be in (rumors are that the southern part of the state is starting to harvest).


Cheryl Mussatto of of Osage County Online has some decent tips for patrons of farmers’ markets including rinsing produce and keeping meats and eggs cold. These practices are good, but are not unique to markets.

What makes a farmers’ market special is the ability to connect with producers and engage in a dialogue about production practices. Unfortunately Mussatto only suggests conversing about beverages:

There is a key question you need to ask the vendor who is selling milk, juice or cider – “Is it pasteurized?” Pasteurization is a process of heating food to a specific temperature for a certain length of time in order to kill harmful bacteria.

Although it generates sneers from other visitors, I like to ask produce vendors about stuff like water testing and wash water monitoring. When I shop at the grocery store, the corporate folks ask these questions of their suppliers for me. At the market, it’s up to me.



Hausmacher pate sold at Nova Scotia farmers’ markets recalled

Where I grew up (Port Hope, Ontario – that’s in Canada), there was a small tailgate farmers market Saturday mornings in the parking lot adjacent to Valu-Mart, but the real event was a trip to either the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto or the Peterborough market on Landsdowne St. Each of the big markets had butchers and I’d usually wrangle my mom into picking up a couple of pepperette sticks (kind of like an unpackaged Slim Jim).

I never really wondered whether the stuff was safe. I didn’t think a whole lot about food safety and regulation until years later. I figured that if someone could sell it, they must know what they are doing, and I didn’t have to worry about it. Food safety is all about trust, and I had lots of it.

I’m not a fan of wurst so I probably wouldn’t have been asking mom for anything like Webber Food’s Hausmacher liver pate, a product that CFIA recalled yesterday.1520738_246504328850770_597368632_n

Webbers Food is recalling “Hausmacher” liver pâté from the marketplace because it may permit the growth of Clostridium botulinum. Consumers should not consume the recalled product described below.

The following product has been sold in glass jars with no label only from November 13, 2013 to December 5, 2013, inclusively, at the following locations in Nova Scotia:
Hammonds Plains Farmers’ Market, Hammonds Plains, Nova Scotia
Lunenburg Farmers’ Market, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

There’s not a whole lot of info in the recall notice so I went digging on the Webber’s Food Facebook page. Seems that the product has a water activity of .98 its pH is 6.4.

And the label that was missing was “keep refrigerated.”

Sealed jar, high pH and high aW and no refrigeration is a pretty good way to make botulinum toxin.

Webber Food’s explanation of the story (including a delay of 25 days between the test results and the recall) can be found here.

Pathogens on farmers’ market and grocery store whole chickens: does location matter?

We eat a lot of chicken. I either stuff a whole chicken with lemons or onions and oven-roast (in the winter) or use indirect heat outside with a 3/4 full beer can stuck into the bird’s, uh, cavity (in the summer). Regardless of where we happen to be shopping (farmers market or a grocery store), I pick one up pretty much every week. I assume that the raw product is covered in Salmonella and Campylobacter so I try not to cross-contaminate and use a digital tip-sensitive thermometer to ensure my chicken has reached a safe temp. I’m doing what I can to reduce risk of illness. Bringing less pathogens into my kitchen would further reduce that risk.BLTYrMoCEAIRhgT

Joshua Scheinberg, Stephanie Doores and friend of barfblog Cathy Cutter published a study in Journal of Food Safety detailing a study they conducted looking at pathogen presence and prevalence on whole chickens purchased from farmers markets or grocery stores as well as produced conventionally or under organic certification. They found (not surprisingly) that there’s a bunch of Campy and Salmonella on chickens, but that there were differences between retail types.

From the article:

Chicken obtained from farmers’ markets were positive for Salmonella spp., at a prevalence rate of 28%, which was not significantly different than the prevalence of 20% found in organically processed chicken. Salmonella spp. prevalence in both farmers’ market and organic chicken however, were found to be significantly higher than that of conventional chicken. Campylobacter spp. contamination rate was found to be high in farmers’ market whole chicken, with a positive prevalence of 90%. The prevalence of Campylobacter spp. in farmers’ market chicken was significantly higher than both conventionally and organically processed chicken, while organic chicken exhibited the lowest prevalence of 28%. Within the 90 Campylobacter spp.-positive farmers’ market whole chickens, 67% were found to harbor enumerable Campylobacter spp. populations compared with 52 and 22% of conventional and organic chicken enumerable populations, respectively.

Scheinberg et al. also looked at whether pathogens recovered from farmers’ markets chickens differed whether they were frozen or fresh – as campy is pretty delicate and has been shown to be affected by freezing.

Also from the article:

To evaluate whether freezing may be beneficial for farmers’ market vendors in reducing potential pathogen load on raw whole chicken, both fresh and frozen chicken were purchased from farmers’ markets. All chicken obtained from supermarkets were purchased as fresh. In this study, Campylobacter spp. and Salmonella spp. prevalence between farmers’ market, fresh and frozen chicken were not significantly different from one another, suggesting that freezing may not reduce either pathogen to nondetectable levels. Significant differ- ences were found between the number of chickens contain- ing enumerable Campylobacter spp. concentrations above 1.0 log10 cfu/mL in frozen versus fresh chicken. This obser- vation may suggest that freezing raw chicken may not reduce Campylobacter spp. to undetectable levels; yet the lower storage temperatures may reduce higher populations of Campylobacter spp. present on the raw chicken.

This data helps farmers’ market folks make risk management decisions: While freezing isn’t going to eliminate the pathogen, it is an added step that a vendor can take to reduce how much campy makes it in to kitchens. The location doesn’t matter as much as the practices of the vendor.

The article, A microbial comparison of poultry products obtained from farmers’ markets and supermarkets in Pennsylvania can be found as an early view article at the Journal of Food Safety website.

7TH Heaven Gourmet spreads sold at CA farmers’ markets recalled due to botulism risk

Lots of people make great-tasting homemade foods like dips, pickles or salsa. But, just like opening a restaurant isn’t as simple as throwing good dinner parties, moving a good product into commercial production takes a lot of work – including recognizing hazards and controlling them.

To reduce risks to business and brand damage, food retailers usually place a lot of requirements in place for suppliers prior to carrying their products – things like proof of inspection, a validated process, visits to the processor and insurance. These precautions don’t eliminate problems but are an indicator that a retailer is paying attention.

While requirements like these are anecdotally reported at some farmers’ markets, the same level of vendor verification isn’t always in place.

One of the ultimate truths in food safety is that putting low acid foods in a jar and sealing them without either acidifying (with vinegar/fermentation) or processing correctly is a bad idea. Correctly means that someone has validated the process and the operator knows how to verify that their procedure works every time.

In June 2012, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) urged people to avoid and dispose of One Gun Ranch and Organic Soup Kitchen soups sold at farmers markets in California because they potentially contained botulinum toxin. The vendors involved were quoted as saying they didn’t know the rules (or the risks). Although none of the products tested positive for the toxin (fortunately), the process/procedure to limit the germination of Clostridium botulinum and toxin outgrowth wasn’t validated by anyone.

CDPH is yet again warning patrons of a couple of California farmers markets to avoid a vendor’s wares (those produced by 7TH Heaven Gourmet) for the same reason – lack of validated processing.

No illnesses have been linked to any of the affected products at this time.

7th Heaven Gourmet of Hesperia, California is voluntarily recalling the following varieties of spreads: Pate Mediterraneo and Eggplant & Shitake Tapenade.  These products were sold under the 7th Heaven Gourmet label and packaged in 8 ounce, glass jars with screw-on metal lids.  These food products lack production or date codes.  Photos of affected products may be obtained HERE.

7th Heaven Gourmet jarred spreads were available for purchase between September 2011 and July 2012, and only sold at the following Farmer’s Markets:

• Victorville Farmers Market (Victor Valley College) 18422 Bear Valley Rd, Victorville, CA

• Victoria Garden Farmers Market, 12505 North Mainstreet, Rancho Cucamonga, CA

Consumers in possession of the recalled products should discard them in the trash.