New law eases food sampling restrictions at farmers markets
The new law, which Governor Dayton approved earlier this month, will allow for cooking demonstrations and more extensive food sampling at farmers markets across the state. Formerly, local growers, artisans, and producers could only share unaltered samples of their products -- even a sprinkle of salt on a slice of locally grown tomato was verboten. Cooking demonstrations with samples were similarly off limits.
"We heard from our market managers and some of the vendors in Minneapolis about state rules and statutes that they felt were onerous," says Dan Huff, director of Environmental Health for the City of Minneapolis. "As long as we don't have any food safety concerns, we want to make things as easy as possible for our markets. We want vendors to be able to entice customers to buy their wonderfully grown products."
There are, of course, still health department rules for sampling at farmers markets: A serving cannot exceed three ounces and must be prepared in an individual container by a vendor wearing plastic gloves. But vendors can now augment their products with spices and accompaniments, and local chefs can demonstrate how to use those ingredients to make a farm-to-table meal.
"The [former rules] stopped customers from being able to enjoy the products the chefs were making, tasting it, and saying 'Oh I'm going to go buy this and bring it home and make this tonight,'" says Sandy Hill of the Central Minnesota Vegetable Growers Association, the group behind the Minneapolis Farmers Market. "So this is really exciting for us to be able to have our demos and have customers be able to taste the fabulous dishes made with the products that are [at the market] every week."
The Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and the Minnesota Farmers Market Association worked in concert to bring the legislation forward. An amendment to the original bill extends the new sampling rules to "chili or soup cook-off fund-raiser[s] conducted by a community-based nonprofit organization." The law also sets forth a new definition of a farmers market as "an association of three or more persons who assemble at a defined location that is open to the public for the purpose of selling directly to the consumer the products of a farm or garden occupied and cultivated by the person selling the product."