9 March 2001

Find out, and learn rules

Theres more to running a

successful farmers market

than organising your

neighbours to visit town with

home-produced food on a

particular day. Suzie Horne

reports on the safety

legislation you need to

know before selling

a single sausage

THINKING of starting a farmers market? Investigate planning laws first, advises Gareth Jones, national consultant with the Farm Retail Association.

Under the Town and Country Planning Act (General Permitted Development) Order 1995, a market may be held on open ground for up to 14 days in a calendar year without planning permission.

That has allowed many pilot farmers markets to begin but using a non open ground site may require express planning permission. The local authority is the first point of contact, says Mr Jones. The right to operate a market may be determined by the existence of a charter, owned either by a local authority or, less commonly, a private market operator. There are also statutory markets, which are always owned by the local authority.

In cases where a charter exists, no other market may be held within a radius of six and two thirds of a mile, says Mr Jones. But some authorities will decide distances on the basis of their own area of authority rather than this historical measurement.

Whether they hold a charter or statutory market, local authorities can give permission for markets to operate within their area. Where the charter is held by a private operator, the authority should know who that is.

"Local authorities are enthusiastic about farmers markets, although there is sometimes concern from local traders," says Mr Jones. Many authorities have become involved and run the markets themselves, such as in Hampshire, where there has been big support and financial help for farmers markets.

Highways issues may cause problems and expense for private markets held on a public road.

Local authorities may request charges to effect a permanent road closure for each market, requiring signs and newspaper advertisements which add up to several thousand pounds.

Insurance

"Any properly-run market should have insurance for the marketplace," says James Pavitt, co-ordinator for the National Association of Farmers Markets, which offers cover through NFU Mutual for market operators and for traders.

Public and product liability insurance is also advised for anyone trading at a market. That would normally be included in most standard farm insurance packages at about £5m, although some are as low as £1m and others offer £10m.

It would be advisable to inform your insurer if you are selling at farmers markets, so that they are aware of any change in the nature of your business activities, said an NFU Mutual spokesman. Failing to check that your current insurance covers such activities could leave you open to a massive claim with no insurance back up.

Mr Pavitt has set up many markets, and often receives calls from farmers wanting to sell at them. His first advice is to contact the local Trading Standards and Environmental Health Departments.

"Opening those lines of communication is helpful. If youre starting from scratch they can save you a lot of money. Its always the first piece of advice I give, and its always the scariest step to take, but its the best one."

Safety legislation

Environmental health at farmers markets involves the Food Safety Act 1990. This deals with due diligence in food production, defences and powers under the act. The act also allows new regulations to be made, and there are already many in force.

The General Food Hygiene Regulations apply across the board, says Winchester City Council food safety officer Inge Brumpton. There are also special regulations for fresh meat hygiene and inspection, temperature control and butchers shops.

Rules are complex, and the best approach is to contact your local environmental health department to explain your intentions and the system of production and handling. Ask the department for its comments, suggests Mrs Brumpton.

A range of different controls apply for different foods. Raw poultry must be constantly refrigerated to below 4C. Cooked ready-to-eat foods must be wrapped, raw food and cooked foods must be separated.

Temperature control regulations allow certain exemptions for both hot and cold ready-to-eat foods. "High risk ready-to-eat foods, such as milk and dairy products, meat products, such as smoked and cured meats, or fish, ready-to-eat salads containing fruit or mayonnaise must be kept at or below 8C," says Mrs Brumpton.

"There is also a requirement to label certain food products in order to prove traceability, for example poultry which is slaughtered on farm, or raw milk, which also has to carry a health warning. Broken eggs and washed eggs may not be sold."

Meat is the challenge because of the complicated system of licensing and how meat is permitted to move from farm to slaughterhouse and or butcher for sale to the public. Direct sale is closely defined and this is one of the main problem areas.

Meat regulations for this area are likely to be redefined within the next three or four years. Meanwhile, some farmers could unwittingly contravene the regulations, so it is important they check their system with their local environmental health officer, recommends Mrs Brumpton.

Those catering at home for sale in a farmers market may need to have their premises inspected.

Home catering producing food for sale is also subject to the Food Safety Act requirements and its regulations, but generally requires normal personal hygiene to be observed, and commonsense, suggests Mrs Brumpton.

"Kitchens may be inspected from time to time. Risk awareness is important, for example knowing what temperature the fridge should be at, and what are high risk foods."

Training, such as the basic hygiene certificate, is a legal requirement and must be commensurate with the activities you are undertaking, says Ms Brumpton.

"Many colleges operate a one day training course for the basic hygiene certificate, and it may be grant aided or even free."

As well as hygiene and food safety issues, there are also many labelling and trading standards requirements which must be met for legal trading.

"Labelling requirements depend on the type of product," explains Ann Hodder, trading standards officer for Hampshire County Council.

"If you sell goods by weight, volume or length you need to use equipment which has been approved by a trading standards officer."

The trading standards legislation which most often comes into play at farmers markets includes the Weights and Measures Act 1985, the Food Safety Act 1990, the Food Labelling Regulations 1996 (as amended), Beef Labelling Regulations 2000, the Jam and Similar Products Regulations 1981, the Business Names Act 1985 and the Price Marking Order 1999.

Apart from this, more detailed guidance should be sought by sellers of eggs, jams, marmalades and cosmetics, advises Mrs Hodder. Prepacked goods should be marked with the net weight in metric. Some produce, if sold pre packed must be in certain quantities. That applies to potatoes, jams, marmalade, honey and dried fruit and vegetables.

Food sold loose or pre packed for direct sale needs only to be labelled with the true name of the food. However, certain types of additives must be declared.

There are many different requirements for different products – the safest course is to check with your local trading standards officers, advises Mrs Hodder.

Pick a market-free zone.

Some foods should be kept below 8C.

STAYING LEGAL

&#8226 Seek permission to hold a market from local authority.

&#8226 Arrange insurance for the marketplace. Traders should seek public and product liability insurance.

&#8226 Inform existing insurers of your intentions.

&#8226 Seek advice from local Trading Standards and Environmental Health Departments.

&#8226 Study legislation covering food hygiene, labelling and trading.

&#8226 Study for basic hygiene certificate.

DIRECT SELLING TIPS

&#8226 Dont underestimate time involved.

&#8226 Outside help for farm chores essential.

&#8226 Ability to get on with customers.

&#8226 Talk to officials before setting up.

&#8226 Research labelling and packaging.

&#8226 Forward planning to meet demand.

&#8226 Marketing to brand produce.