Offering samples is a great way to promote your products. The 2014 Safe Food Sampling law (Minnesota Statute 28A.151) allows farmers market vendors to offer samples.
Although you don’t need a food license, you must follow Minnesota food code requirements for Special Event Food Stands (4626.1855, B-O and Q and R).
Safe food sampling practices
Health and hygiene are the most important links to preventing foodborne illness.
- You must not prepare or serve samples if you’re ill with vomiting or diarrhea until at least 72 hours after symptoms end. Stay home if you are ill. Train volunteers to report illness.
- Wear clean clothing.
- Wear a scarf, hat, visor or hair restraint when preparing or serving food.
- Wash hands often and before handling food.
- Unless gloves are used, fingernail polish and artificial nails are not allowed when handling food samples.
- Jewelry can harbor bacteria that can transfer to food. Don’t wear rings or watches when preparing or serving food. A plain, solid band ring is allowed.
- Use gloves, scoops or utensils to serve food samples.
- Check hands for cuts and wounds. Cover cuts with a leak-proof bandage and wear gloves while preparing and serving food samples.
While it is not required by law, it is good practice to keep a list of workers. Record hours worked and contact information in case there is a foodborne illness outbreak.
Handwashing is one of the easiest, most effective ways to prevent foodborne illness. Set up your handwashing station first before unpacking supplies or preparing food.
Supplies you’ll need for a handwashing station:
- A 5 to 15-gallon insulated, thermos-type container with warm water.
- Water must be 70 to 110 degrees F. This temperature needs to be maintained during the entire time you’re sampling or doing your food demonstration. Verify water temperature with a food thermometer throughout the day.
- Water needs to freely flow from the spigot or spout so there is a steady stream while washing hands. A turn-style spout or flip-up type works well. Most thermoses can be retrofitted with this type of spout.
- Water needs to be potable (suitable for drinking) from a municipal water supply or a well that is routinely tested (at least annually) for bacteria and nitrates and must meet safe drinking water and well standards.
- Paper towels - the paper towel holder can be attached to a table or the water reservoir.
- Container to catch wastewater – the wastewater container should be emptied as needed.
- Trash container for paper towels – covered is best.
- Table or cart to hold the hand-washing supplies
Handwashing station location and details
- Locate the handwashing station so it is easily accessible but water does not splash on food or food contact surfaces during the handwashing process.
- Maintain enough water pressure in the container to adequately wash your hands. You need one gallon of water remaining in the container at all times – this is 2 inches above the faucet, spigot or spout.
- Bring extra water to refill container. If you run out of water or below the 2 inches, you need to stop providing samples.
Wash your hands often:
- Before preparing or serving samples.
- After handling raw foods.
- After coughing or blowing your nose.
- After handling garbage.
- After using the toilet (wash hands at hand sink and again when you return to your booth).
- After you handle money.
- After eating or drinking.
- Any time they become contaminated.
How to wash hands
- Wet hands with running warm water.
- Wash hands with enough soap to create a good lather.
- Rub soapy hands together for at least 20 seconds.
- Rinse under running water.
- Dry hands using paper towels.
- Turn the spigot or faucet off with a paper towel to prevent recontamination of hands.
- Gloves, wet wipes, “waterless” hand sanitizers, or sanitizers are not substitutes for handwashing.
Washing hands in dishwater buckets is never allowed.
See step-by-step instructions on building a handwashing station.
Wash all produce under running water before peeling, cutting or serving.
- Wash using running, potable water and transport to market in clean covered containers to prepare on-site or wash on-site using water from the handwashing station.
- To prevent splashing of water from the hand wash wastewater bucket or container, have a separate container to catch produce wastewater.
- Use a produce brush on firm-skinned produce like carrots or apples.
- Use clean, sanitized colanders, cutting boards, peelers, knives, etc. to prepare samples.
The water you use for handwashing, washing fruits and vegetables, and cleaning and sanitizing must be potable, which means it is drinkable water. It can come from:
- A municipal (public) water supply.
- A private well if the well water is tested once a year for bacteria and nitrates and has met safe drinking water and well water standards.
- You can transport your water with:
- Portable containers if they are food-grade, clean and of sufficient capacity for your sampling needs.
- Food-grade hose with an appropriate backflow device to prevent backflow of contaminated water into the clean water source. The hose must be flushed and sanitized before use.
Think through your equipment needs: all utensils, tools, surfaces and appliances needed to transport, serve, hold and store, prepare, package or offer food samples. Equipment must be clean, in good repair, smooth and cleanable (no chips or cracks), made of food-grade materials and nonabsorbent.
Microorganisms can transfer to food from dirty equipment and utensils. Bring extra supplies in case of contamination or if you drop them on the ground.
Two options for using clean equipment and utensils:
Option 1: Bring enough clean utensils and equipment for preparation and serving so you never reuse a ‘dirty’ item during that day’s sampling event.
Option 2: Wash utensils and equipment at the market for reuse during your sampling or food demonstration event. You will need:
- Three containers, buckets, bins or tubs (need to be food-grade which means designed to hold food or items that touch food). Containers need to be large enough so the largest item you wash is fully immersed in the container.
- You will need potable warm water to fill each bucket or container.
- Label the first bucket as your ‘wash’ bucket then fill it with hot water (110 F) and dishwashing detergent.
- Label the second bucket ‘rinse’ and fill it with clean warm water.
- Label the third bucket ‘sanitize’ and fill it with warm water (75 F – follow the manufacturer's directions on the label of the sanitizer).
- Test strips are required to verify the sanitizer concentration is correct (chlorine bleach: 50 ppm; Iodine: 12.5 – 25 ppm; quaternary ammonium: 200 – 400 ppm per label instructions).
- Chlorine bleach recipe*:
- 1 gallon of water
- Plain, unscented bleach that lists the percent (%) sodium hypochlorite strength on the manufacturer’s label.
- 1 Tbs bleach at 2.75% strength
- OR 2 tsp bleach at 5.25-6.25% strength
- OR 1 tsp bleach at 8.25% strength
*Adapted from Michigan State University Extension’s Safe Sanitizing and Disinfecting fact sheet.
- You will need space and a dish rack to air-dry dishes. Towel drying is not allowed.
Dishwashing is a four-step process
- Wash and sanitize dishes and utensils in this order:
- Wash in warm soapy water.
- Rinse in clear water.
- Sanitize items for 10 seconds for bleach or 30 seconds for quats (quaternary ammonium).
- Air dry.
- Bring an extra thermos with hot water. You must change the water in wash, rinse and sanitize containers at least every two hours, or more depending on use. You will also need a bucket for the wastewater.
- After each use, wash equipment and utensils with hot, soapy water, then rinse and sanitize.
- Every 4 hours, wash, rinse and sanitize preparation and serving utensils, and surfaces in constant use.
- You’ll need additional buckets to wipe up spills and clean preparation areas like tables.
- Prepare both a cleaning bucket with detergent and a sanitizer bucket.
- Label buckets for ‘cleaning’ and ‘sanitizing’.
- Keep wiping cloths in the buckets when not in use.
- Label and designate a separate sanitizer bucket if prepping raw meat or poultry products.
- When you run out of water for dishes, you need to stop sampling.
Use proper sanitizing solutions
Sanitizer concentration is very important. Too much can be toxic and too little will not be effective in killing germs (pathogens) that can make people sick.
- Use approved unscented sanitizers: the label must have an EPA registration number and instructions for use on food contact surfaces. Follow label directions for use.
- After the sampling session, clean and sanitize thermos, nozzle or spigot, coolers and totes used for water or food.
- Wash with soapy water, inside and out.
- Rinse with clean water.
- To sanitize, follow the manufacturer's instructions on preparing the solution. See table in previous section for amounts of chlorine to use depending on % sodium hypochlorite.
- Do NOT rinse.
- Air dry.
Temperature danger zone (41°F and 135°F)
- The temperature range at which disease-causing bacteria grow best in food.
- Food must pass through the temperature danger zone as quickly as possible.
The faster food is cooled, the better. Cool hot food from:
- 135°F to 70°F within two hours, AND
- 135°F to 41°F or below within a total of six hours.
Use a food thermometer
Eating undercooked foods can result in a serious foodborne illness outbreak.
- Bring and use a calibrated food thermometer to check cold-holding, cooking, and hot-holding food temperatures.
- Refer to the table below for the time and temperature needed to ensure food is properly cooked*.
Time and temperature to ensure food is properly cooked
|Fruits, vegetables for hot holding||135°F||N/A|
|Chopped or ground meat, fish, and game animals||158°F||Immediate|
|Injected or tenderized meats||155°F||15 seconds|
|Eggs for hot holding||145°F||3 minutes|
*Adapted from Minnesota Dept. of Ag. Time Requirements for Food fact sheet and the Florida Dept. of Ag. Cooking and Hot Holding fact sheet.
Keep hot foods hot
If hot foods are held below 135°F for longer than four hours, microorganisms will grow rapidly.
- Keep hot foods at 135°F or higher.
- Use a food thermometer to check the temperature of hot foods.
- Do not mix a fresh batch of a food item with an existing item.
- To keep hot food hot:
- Options include hot plates and electric skillets.
- Commercial-certified equipment is not required but can be used. Examples of countertop warmers.
- Home crock pots are not allowed to hold hot foods. Every time you lift the cover it takes 20 minutes to recover the heat lost.
- Any leftover food at the end of the day must be discarded.
Keep cold foods cold
If cold foods are held above 40°F for longer than four hours, microorganisms grow rapidly.
- Keep cold foods at 40°F or lower. Verify with a food thermometer.
- Monitor the temperature of food at least every four hours to ensure it is at 40<°F or colder. If cold food is above 40°F, discard the food.
- Coolers should be durable, insulated and cleanable with tight-fitting covers. Fill coolers with ice packs, (not ice bags) or dry ice to keep cold foods at 40°F or below.
- NOTE: Mechanical refrigeration is required for food held longer than four hours. Plug-in coolers are an option.
- Use separate coolers:
- One for raw products.
- One for ready-to-eat products.
- One with ice for consumption if serving a beverage that you will add ice to, like a smoothie. (Ice needs to be from a commercial source no ice from your home refrigerator.) If you dispense ice, be sure to use a scoop.
- Place an appliance thermometer in each cooler. These thermometers are available at variety and discount stores. The cooler should keep food at 40°F or lower.
- Drained ice may be used to cool beverages stored in water-impervious (water-tight) containers e.g. soda cans
Your booth should protect from overhead and environmental contamination.
- Think about the safe flow of food from clean to dirty. Keep cooked and raw food separately to avoid cross-contamination.
- A canopy or other overhead protection is required to protect food and surfaces from contamination.
- Food preparation and cooking areas are protected from the public by a food shield or distance separation.
- Store food off the ground at least 6 inches or in holding containers that are waterproof, non-porous and cleanable.
- Store food and equipment away from chemicals (like sanitizers, sunscreen, insect spray, soap, etc.).
- If there is adverse weather conditions, stop food sampling and/or demonstrations.
You need a plan to deal with liquid and solid waste collected during sampling and food demonstration.
- Provide waste containers with plastic liners in and outside your booth.
- Empty them often.
- Provide a garbage container for used sampling containers or utensils used by customers.
- If using cleanable utensils, designate a “dirty dish” container, away from food and food contact surfaces
- At the end of the day, dispose of waste according to the farmers’ market guidelines.
- Collect and dump wastewater.
- Cover it.
- Dump in an approved waste water collection system.
- Wastewater cannot be poured on the ground, in creeks, rivers or down a street or storm drains. Doing so can contaminate water sources.
Checklist for safe food sampling at farmers markets
This checklist outlines the requirements of the 2014 Safe Food Sampling law (MN Statute 28A.151). Vendors and food demonstrators preparing and serving food samples must follow the ‘special event food stand’ regulations (4626.1855). No food license is required for product sampling per MN Statute 28A.151.
- Conveniently accessible from the food stand.
- Insulated food-grade thermos: minimum 5 gallons with water at 70ºF-110ºF
- Free-flowing water container with turn or flip spigot.
- Maintain water level 2 inches above the spigot.
- Soap, nail brush, paper towels, trash container.
- Bucket to collect wastewater.
- See step-by-step instructions on building a handwashing station.
- Food grade: clean and non-absorbent.
- In good repair and working properly.
- Cutting boards: clean, smooth, no deep cuts.
- Single-service items for samples, e.g. cups, plates, napkins, forks, spoons
- Clean colanders, peelers, knives, etc. to prepare samples.
- Overhead protection (tent or canopy).
- Food and food preparation areas are protected from contamination.
- Dry chemical fire extinguisher, if cooking.
Food temperature control
- Hot foods held at 135ºF or above.
- Cold foods held at 40ºF or below.
- Thermometer calibrated with a range of 0ºF to 220ºF.
- Hot food samples cooked to required temperatures onsite.
- Temperature control during transport.
Water source options
- Municipal (public) water supply.
- Private well that is tested annually for bacteria and nitrates. Meets safe drinking water and well water standards.
- Permanent potable water source at market accessed via food-grade hose or portable food-grade containers.
- Smooth, cleanable food contact surfaces.
- Durable, insulated, with a tight-fitting lid and drainage spout.
- Ice packs or dry ice to keep cold food at 40ºF or below for 4 hours or less. If greater than 4 hours, mechanical refrigeration is required.
- Appliance thermometer in each cooler.
- Separate cooler for raw animal products.
- Cooler for beverages: if ice is used, the beverages must be in water-impervious containers, e.g. soda cans.
- Separate cooler for unpackaged ice, if adding ice to beverages. The ice must be from a commercial food-safe source, not from home refrigerator.
- Clean drinkable water.
- Separate catch bucket for produce wastewater, if produce is being washed at a portable stand.
- All produce washed under running water before peeling, cutting or serving.
- Firm-skinned produce scrubbed with a produce brush.
- Bucket with soapy water and cloth to wipe up spills.
- Bucket with sanitizer. Refer to the section: Use clean equipment and utensils, for guidance on how to prepare bleach solution.
- Wiping cloths stored in sanitizer bucket when not in use.
- Separate raw and cooked foods.
- Food, utensils or equipment stored 6 inches off the ground and in a sanitary manner until needed.
- Separate chemicals from food and equipment.
- Option 1: Bring extra utensils and equipment and don’t re-use a dirty item.
- Option 2: Wash for re-use at market 3 buckets or tubs:
- Wash in soapy warm water.
- Rinse in clean water.
- Sanitize in warm water with proper sanitizer concentration (1 teaspoon regular bleach per 1 gallon of water; use test strips to verify concentration is 50 ppm).
- Dish rack to air dry dishes.
- Extra thermos with hot water.
- Bucket to collect dirty dishwater.
- Prepared onsite or transported to market.
- 3 ounces or less.
- Money and food handled separately.
- Tongs, spoons, spatulas, gloves used to dispense food.
- Sauces, condiments are in self-contained squeeze bottles, sealed packs or in single-service containers with lids.
- Protected from contamination by customers. No self–service.
- Discard leftover food samples at end of the market.
- Garbage container with a plastic liner in the booth.
- “Dirty dish” container to collect cleanable utensils used by customers.
- Wastewater stored in a container labeled ‘wastewater only’.
- Wastewater and garbage disposed of into approved collection systems.
Personal health and hygiene
- Clean clothing.
- Hair restraint or hat.
- No eating, drinking, smoking or chewing gum or tobacco in the booth.
- No symptoms of diarrhea or vomiting within the past 24 hours.
- Cover cuts on hands and arms with a bandage and wear gloves.
- Wash hands before and after food preparation.
2021 Minnesota Statutes. MN Statute 28A.15128A.151 Farmers' market or community event; food product sampling and demonstration.
Minnesota Administrative Rules. 4626.1855 Special Event Food Stands.
Guidelines for Safe Handling of Drinking Water at Golf Courses, Minnesota Department of Health, December 2010.
Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association. Safe food sampling at farmers markets worksheet
Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association. Handwashing Station for Minnesota Farmers’ Markets
Reviewed in 2022