Farmers MarketLocal customers may wonder how they can be sure the food products they buy at the Charlotte Artisan & Farmers Market are safe. Market organizers want customers to know that food safety is a top priority for the market, and a significant effort is made to ensure that all food safety rules and regulations are followed.
There are several levels of licensing and approvals necessary for safe market vending – even products not intended for human consumption, such as pet treats, must adhere to regulatory standards. Market organizers work with vendors to make certain they understand the rules, and to provide opportunities for them to meet the standards.
Whole uncut, fresh fruits and vegetables, along with eggs sold directly to the consumer are exempt from licensing and regulation, although eggs must be labeled as being packaged in a facility that has not been inspected if that is case.
The lowest level of regulated food items are those non-potentially hazardous foods where time and temperature controls are not required to assure safety. These foods are sold under the Michigan Cottage Food Law, and include many familiar market items such as breads and similar baked goods, cooked fruit pies, jams and jellies that can be stored at room temperature, dry herbs and herb mixtures, popcorn, dry bulk mixes, dried pasta, and similar items. The product must clearly be labeled that it is made in a home not inspected by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), and must have the producer’s name and address clearly stated, along with the ingredients.
Honey and maple syrup are not considered Cottage Foods, even though they are able to be produced at home. However, they also have licensing and regulatory requirements that call for clear labeling at the market.
Beyond these basic home-produced items, most prepared foods require the vendor to be a licensed food producer preparing the foods in a licensed and inspected kitchen. Some items, such as raw milk, are strictly prohibited from sale under any circumstances.
The type of food products you are likely to see at the market that require licensing include meat and meat products, fish, canned fruits or vegetables like salsa or canned peaches, canned pickled products, baked goods that require refrigeration, dairy products, beverages, food products made with fresh cut tomatoes or leafy greens, salad dressings, and sauces. When you see these items at the market, they should be clearly labeled and the vendors should be able to display or produce the appropriate license on request.
All vendors may offer samples of their product at the market, but even food sampling is regulated, and vendors must follow MDARD guidelines.
Market managers perform weekly spot checks and basic inspections, and maintain a relationship with regional food safety inspectors so that when a question arises, it can be answered quickly and correctly. When a prohibited or mislabeled product is identified, it is not allowed to be sold at the market. When a new vendor applies to sell at the Farmers Market, their products and labels are inspected, and every effort is made to help them meet regulatory requirements, rather than simply turning them away. However, producers who are unable to meet the necessary standards are not allowed to sell.
The Charlotte Artisan and Farmers Market also maintains a list of who is vending and what their products are in case a questions arises later. In all cases, if a customer has a question about the origin, ingredients, processes or licensing in regard to a specific vendor’s product, they are encouraged to talk to the vendor directly. Usually, the vendor has put a significant amount of work into bringing their product to market, including the necessary licensing and inspection and will be happy to talk to you about it.

Article submitted by the City of Charlotte.