To Take Steps To Protect Your Farmers Market From COVID-19 

On April 20, 2020

To Take Steps To Protect Your Farmers Market From COVID-19 

Operators of farmers markets should consider the possibility that the COVID-19 outbreak may continue to be a threat well into the summer and should develop a plan to help safeguard their customers and employees, according to Penn State Extension experts.

Each day brings new information and concern about COVID-19 and its impact on our lives, noted Luke LaBorde, professor of food safety in the College of Agricultural Sciences and extension produce safety specialist. If the threat of this rapidly spreading viral disease lingers, social distancing and limitations on public gatherings could adversely impact farmers markets, he warned.

Farmers markets are mostly open-air venues that, by their nature, might have the advantage of being less risky than grocery stores for some transmission of the virus among and between employees and customers, agreed Brian Moyer, extension educator specializing in business and community vitality.

“But certain actions, such as creating wider spaces between vendors and growers, may allow for more air circulation and additional room to maintain social distancing,” he said.

Laborde and Moyer recommend the following methods for minimizing the transmission of coronavirus at farmers markets. Have fully stocked handwashing and sanitizing stations in place at multiple locations, and post signs that inform everyone where hand sanitizing materials are available and that show the correct way to wash hands.

Put up signs and provide information on vendor websites and social media to explain any changes, delivery options or extra precautions taken to limit exposure to the coronavirus. For example, instruct customers not to handle food. Package cheese and eggs for customers, even if the products are individually packaged. Open egg cartons for customers to see the eggs they are getting instead of having them handle multiple cartons.

Prepackage bags of fruits, vegetables and other items to limit shoppers’ handling of food and so that customers move along quickly.

Consider alternate pick-up, drive-through, curb service or delivery options to keep crowd levels low. Encourage customers to avoid lining up too close to each other when making purchases.

Separate stands, if possible, to limit crowds, and try to maintain a separation between stands of at least 6 feet. Consider limiting the number of customers within your market at one time in the case of “panic shopping.”

If possible, have different people handle products and money, and make sure they wash their hands or use a hand sanitizer between these tasks.

Utilize card readers that allow customers to swipe their credit cards, which helps to protect both them and your employees. Disable the signature function on your point-of-sale system to limit contact from multiple customers.

Use nonporous tablecloths, and clean and sanitize them regularly. Do not allow customers to sample products. Eliminate market events, children’s activities and gathering areas, and encourage customers not to linger in the market. Eliminate eating areas, and gently direct customers to take prepared foods home to avoid crowds.

Train your staff to wash their hands regularly and frequently with soap and water, including scrubbing for at least 20 seconds, especially after they blow their nose, cough, or sneeze. Train them to maintain at least a 6-foot distance between them and customers — that’s two to three arm-lengths.

Anyone on the premises who shows symptoms of a severe cold or flu, such as high fever, coughing and difficulty breathing, should be sent home. Consider the possibility that you may have a shortage of workers. You may need a plan to hire temporary workers.

Encourage your staff not to handle customers’ reusable bags. You may wish to set up an area to the side of the display area where customers can pay for their purchases.

Frequently disinfect tabletops, door handles, cash boxes, credit card machines, shopping baskets and other contact surfaces with EPA-registered sanitizer sprays or wipes labeled as effective against viruses. Do not purchase sanitizers from suppliers who claim their products kill viruses without showing proof of efficacy.

Frequently clean and sanitize common gathering places such as restrooms, break rooms and meeting rooms. Consider closing these rooms off, or if necessary, restrict access to essential-use only and clean and sanitize them after every use.

For more information go to:

To Enroll In The Farmers Market Food Safety Online Course

If you are working on your plan to reduce the COVID-19 risk at your farm market, you will  find the Farmers Market Food Safety Online Course very valuable. To help you prepare for the upcoming season, we have made this course FREE through the month of April.

This course takes approximately four hours to complete and teaches new and established farmers market vendors the basics of food safety and sanitation. Get ready for the season now by taking steps to control food safety risks, allowing you to enjoy success all summer long!

You can register online at: or by calling 1-877-345-0691. 

To Participate In The Weekly Agronomy Highlights Online Meeting

Each Monday at 8:00am throughout the growing season, the Penn State Extension Agronomy Team is inviting readers to join us as we dig into a selected article from Field Crop News. The Agronomy Highlight is an opportunity to ask the author questions about the highlighted article, get updates from educators around the commonwealth, and share observations from your part of the state.

You will also be able to ask questions and make comments via the Zoom Chat feature, or on Facebook during our live broadcast. 

Registration is not required to participate. You can join us on zoom or by calling +1 646 876 9923, and when prompted enter the webinar ID: 210 945 454. The discussion will also be live-streamed Mondays at 8:00am and stored for later viewing on the Field and Forage Crops Facebook page: page ( 

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