Guidelines for offering samples of food and beverage products at farmers markets

Be sure you know these important food safety practices.

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Food businesses know that samples help increase sales. Offering samples when selling in a farmers market can attract and engage potential customers, which aids in the success of any food business. However, before offering samples at the market, you should always talk with the farmers market manager to make sure you know the rules for sampling and be sure to follow the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development sampling guidelines.

Some best practices for safe food sampling include:

  • All samples should be individually prepackaged and covered. Small cups with lids work well. Preparing samples should be done in a commercial kitchen for all licensed food businesses. Be sure you have a trash bin available for disposing of the containers.
  • Cottage Food Businesses may offer individually packaged samples, but at no time can you offer products that need to be time- and/or temperature-controlled. For example, if you offer spice blends, you may not offer your spice blends mixed with cream cheese because cream cheese must be temperature-controlled.
  • Licensed food businesses may offer samples that are hot held at 135 degrees Fahrenheit or above, or cold samples held at 41 degrees F or below. A thermometer should be available onsite to make sure the food is kept at the proper temperature. These samples should be individually packaged. Electricity is not always available in farmers markets. Be sure you know if electricity is available at your space if you need it for hot holding. Typically, hot foods can only be held for a maximum of four hours. Check with your Health Inspector to make sure you are following the requirements.
  • Washing and sanitizing all surfaces prior to offering samples is necessary. Be sure to bring your own cleaning equipment and trash can for your sample containers. It is a good idea to have hand sanitizer available to customers as well.
  • The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has compiled several helpful links for farmers markets vendors on this web page.
  • The Michigan Farmers Market Association has compiled a packing list for farmers market vendors offering samples available at this link.

The Michigan Farmers Market Association also offers a free series of videos for businesses serving ready-to-eat foods in farmers markets and businesses that need to use a handwashing station.

Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan State University Product Center assist entrepreneurs and businesses in developing products and services in the food and agriculture markets. Its team of experts consults with clients on a one-on-one basis, helping new entrepreneurs navigate from concept development to launch and beyond. The MSU Product Center also offers specialized services such as labeling, packaging, and nutritional analysis. If you are interested in business counseling from the MSU Product Center, please visit our website.

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