Ready-to-Eat Food at Markets

Part of farmers’ markets’ goal is to encourage customers to linger. Why? One problem we want to solve is that customers spend a few minutes looking at all the beautiful food, get hungry and perhaps leave. While we want customers to stay and buy more ingredients for cooking at home, we also are creating community events. That means maximizing the chances that customers meet their neighbors and perceive farmers’ markets as great places to hang out. Ready-to-eat food vendors on site help markets achieve their “lingering” goals.

Each farmers’ market establishes how many restaurant food vendors should be in the vendor mix. Markets need to consider how their choice affects perceptions of the market. Too many restaurant and other prepared food vendors could change the “feel” of the market to more of a street fair than an event focused on local agriculture.

In Oregon, counties are in charge of licensing the restaurant or ready-to-eat foods that are prepared (hot or cold) on site to be consumed in the markets. This category does not include baked goods and other foods prepared in ODA licensed food establishments, which are not served as restaurant foods.

The counties and farmers’ markets both have an interest in ensuring that these food vendors handle food properly to minimize the risk of food borne diseases.

The 2011 legislature passed a bill supported by OFMA that allows for 90-day restaurant licenses. Before the passage of HB 2868, practices varied but restaurant vendors could not be licensed for more than 30 days and some counties insisted on licensing each market day separately. Vendors now pay a pre-operational review fee, which may not be required on an ongoing basis, in addition to the 90-day seasonal temporary restaurant license. The licenses are still good at only one location.

Restaurant licenses generally require one person physically present in the operation to hold a food handler’s certificate.  Other requirements include a diagram of the booth and menu details.

Generally licenses are issued after a market accepts a restaurant vendor, so there is no license to examine at first. But market managers can contact their county health inspectors if there is any question about whether a vendor is meeting his or her responsibilities.

Food carts fall under a separate area of health law. Mobile food carts have four levels, with Level 4 allowing the most complex activities. They are also regulated by county health departments.