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Farmers Market Safety Tips

cherry tomatoes at farmers market

As concerns over the spread of COVID-19 have grown, so have fears regarding the global and national food supply chain. WVU Extension recognizes the importance of supporting local agribusinesses and farmers markets, which are essential businesses that are able to remain open under our state’s stay-at-home order.

During this time, it’s important for vendors and market managers to elevate their role of providing essential food access, while also managing social distancing requirements. Proactive steps in developing communications, preparing contingency plans and modifying operations will likely help keep the local food system functioning as close to normal as possible.

Should farmers continue to prepare for a 2020 market season?

Food remains a basic human need. Farmers need to stay in business and consumers need a local supply of fresh, healthy, nutrient-dense and affordable food products. It is a win-win for buyers and sellers. Despite the current crisis, farms are encouraged to remain open for business to provide fresh foods, but with varying degrees of changes in how they promote and deliver products to their consumers.

What should producers do to ensure safety in a farmers market setting?

There are several best practices to follow to help make sure vendors and customers remain safe.

  • Communicate with customers through market signs, social media, newsletters or emails about: the rules and changes in market procedures being implemented to help customers and vendors remain safe and healthy what health and safety practices markets are taking to prevent the spread of illness and encouraging customers to follow the rules.
  • Suspend demos and sampling to minimize touch points and crowding. Restrict hot food sales to take-out only.
  • Provide prevention supplies at your markets, such as hand-washing stations, and supplement those by making hand sanitizer available at vendor stalls. Post hand-washing signs reminding vendors and customers about proper hand-washing procedures.
  • Discourage vendors and customers who are sick from attending markets.
  • Space vendor booths further apart – at least 10 feet. If space is an issue, consider temporarily redesigning market locations to allow for pre-ordered items to be picked up at the usual market times or other alternative distribution methods, such as delivery. Make sure to have a map of vendors stalls available, so customers can find their favorite vendors easily and quickly.
  • Limit the number of customers entering market, limit customers to one per vendor at a time and keep them walking in one direction into and out of the market.
  • Consider extending sales hours to accommodate more customers without crowding.
  • Encourage customers to touch only the items they will purchase. Alternatively, vendors could temporarily suspend self-serve options – encourage vendors to pre-bag items in different sizes to accommodate different customer needs.
  • Make sanitary gloves required for market staff who handle money, tokens or vouchers, and remind staff about hand-washing procedures. Follow CDC guidelines for wearing masks.
  • Vendors should use non-porous plastic tables that can be easily disinfected, if possible. Be sure to think about touch points throughout the market, and try to eliminate or disinfect those between uses.

What can producers do to limit contact with customers?

Vendors should practice hand hygiene, use gloves when handling money, and handle and package items for customers. Market managers should work with vendors to limit market volume by promoting pre-ordering, alternate pickup locations or delivery.

Spacing vendors out and limiting the number of customers that enter the market at one time can help reduce crowds.

Vendors also can move to cashless options, such as pre-ordering online, mobile payment services, etc., to limit touch points.

Are there special food safety precautions producers should be taking?

As always, food safety precautions remain paramount. The good news is COVID-19 is not a foodborne illness, so consumers are likely to catch it through respiratory transmission, not through eating contaminated foods. To avoid transmission, vendors should encourage consumers to practice social distancing, and clean and sanitize high-touch surfaces and those that come in contact with food.

  • Provide adequate hand-washing stations and access to hand sanitizer.
  • Vendors should clean their hands after every transaction. Separate tasks between staff, if possible. Remind staff about proper hand-washing procedures. You also can make sanitary gloves required for market staff and follow CDC guidelines for wearing masks.
  • Regularly clean and sanitize all contact surfaces (doorknobs, railings, tables, counters, etc.).
    • Disinfectants that may be effective against COVID-19 are available on the EPA Disinfectant Registration List.
    • Bleach may be used to sanitize surfaces – use 5 tablespoons per gallon of water for effectiveness against COVID-19.
  • Develop schedules for cleaning and sanitizing with a designated person to supervise and enforce food safety practices. Use SOPs (Standard Operating Practices) for cleaning and sanitizing.
  • Post signage about zero-tolerance for sick customers or vendors/employees.

What are some alternative marketing strategies for producers who aren’t comfortable participating in a traditional farmers market?

These strategies can help you navigate the current crisis, but they also can be used in the long term to generate awareness and sales for your business.

Consider temporarily redesigning market locations to allow for pre-ordered items to be picked up at the usual market times or other alternative distribution methods, such as drive-thru markets or delivery to homes or other strategic neighborhood locations.

In any of the above scenarios, customers could pre-order products online or by phone and receive their purchases with minimal contact. WVU Extension is currently working on resources to help facilitate this process.

Author: Dee Singh-Knights, WVU Extension Specialist – Agribusiness Economics

Last Reviewed: April 2020