Food sampling guidelines for businesses at farmers markets

Companies that sell prepared packaged food products at Farmers Markets must follow sampling guidelines to comply with Michigan law.

“Sampling sells” is a well-known phrase in the food industry. If you are selling your food at a farmers market this year, you’ll need to plan ahead to ensure you are in compliance with sampling regulations.

Although farmers markets can decide whether they allow sampling, you must follow the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) rules on how to provide samples of your food product.

If you are producing food under the MDARD Cottage Food Law in Michigan, samples at the market must be pre-packaged in your home kitchen. If you are selling a commercial food product under a MDARD license at the market, the samples must be pre-packaged in a licensed commercial kitchen.

In either case, each sample needs to either be individually wrapped or individually put in containers with lids. Although samples don’t need product labels, they must be displayed beside properly labeled packages of your food product. This allows your customer the ability to review the ingredient list as required by MDARD.

Additionally, MDARD does not allow your product sampling to be cooked or prepared in a way that makes it a potentially hazardous food. Examples of what not to do include mixing your dried dip mix food product with sour cream, cooking chicken with the BBQ sauce you are selling and serving samples that cannot be kept safely at room temperature.

Remember, businesses that make and sell prepared food under the Cottage Food Law must follow the same food safety handling and preparation requirements of licensed vendors who sell at farmers markets. For more information, visit the MDARD Farmers Market Requirements.

Through a partnership with Michigan State University Extension, the MSU Product Center provides product and business marketing assistance for companies as they work to commercialize their food product. For more information, visit www.productcenter.msu.edu or call 517-432-8750.

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