Are Farmers Markets Regulated by the FDA? - An Expert's Perspective

Farmers markets are a popular way for people to purchase fresh, local produce and other food products. But are they regulated by the FDA? Generally speaking, farms are regulated by the FDA under the Federal Regulatory Code, 21, 112. If the farm sells products across state lines, then its products are under the jurisdiction of the FDA. The FDA has introduced significant improvements to the process such as a schedule for issuing a recall and a way for farmers and food companies to recover their exempt status if they have been removed. In Florida, state regulations require that nearly everyone who works in food service, including food companies at farmers markets, be trained in food safety.

Nearly all food operations legally permitted by a food safety regulatory agency in Florida must prepare, process and store food in a state-authorized facility. When Congress drafted the FSMA law, it specified that farmers markets and other direct-to-consumer platforms were defined as “retail food establishments” and, therefore, were not subject to the Preventive Control Rule. However, in drafting the FSMA rules, the FDA delayed clarifying whether direct consumer sales, such as farmers' markets, will be subject to FSMA regulations. Without this clarification, farmers' markets could be subject to inappropriate and costly regulations designed for industrial food facilities.

The FDA must publish its clarification for public review before the preventive control and product safety regulations are finalized. The cost of complying with these standards will put an end to the promising trend of new farmers to engage in agriculture and farmers' markets. As a result of these costs, the FDA expects that some farmers will go bankrupt, fewer people will start farming, and more farmers will have to look for jobs off the farm, all of which will contribute to the stagnation of the growth of sustainable agriculture and local food initiatives. While most businesses in the agricultural market are exempt from nutrition labeling requirements, nutrition information can add value to fresh and local products since they are more nutritious than processed and commercially packaged foods from faraway places.

Whether a reward for farmers is sold at the grocery store or at a farmer's market, farmers must follow safety regulations set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to grow and harvest their crops. In addition, some artisanal food companies that sell most of their products directly to an end consumer in places such as farm stands or farmer's markets can be considered “retail food establishments” and are therefore also exempt from coverage under the Preventive Controls Rule. Visiting local farmers' markets is a great way to trust your safety when buying all the wonderful fruits and vegetables of the summer. With more than 8,500 farmers markets listed in the USDA National Directory of Agricultural Markets across the United States, it is important to understand how these markets are regulated by the FDA.

Tricia Sweetman
Tricia Sweetman

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