A Closer Look: New Texas Laws for Farmers’ Markets

In our series of reports on new laws that go into effect on September 1, this post focuses on two laws aimed at supporting local farmers’ markets:

 

  1. SB 932, capping the fees that can be charged by local health departments, and
  2. HB 1694, abolishing the requirements for permits for sampling at farmers markets.
Both bills apply to farmers selling on-farm as well as farmers’ market vendors of all types.

 

PERMIT FEES

Under SB 932, a local health department cannot charge more than $100 annually for permit fees for farmers and farmers’ market vendors selling directly to consumers within that jurisdiction.

 

The law applies to a farmer who sells food directly to consumers at a farmers’ market, farm stand, or on their own farm. It also applies to anyone who “prepares food for sale” at a farmers’ market.

 

The permits must be for at least one year, and they cover sales at all locations within the local government’s authority.

 

This means:
  • No more having to renew your permits every 2 weeks or every season.
  • No more getting a separate permit (and paying a separate permit fee) for each farmers’ market within the jurisdiction.
Note that if you sell in multiple jurisdictions, you will still need to get a permit from each one. For example, if you sell in Austin and in Georgetown, you will need a permit from each of those health departments.

 

The bill does not change any of the substantive health and safety standards.

 

Thank you to Senator Hughes (R-Mineola) and Representative Terry Wilson (R-Marble Falls) for authoring the bill!

 

Thanks also to Representatives Rodriguez (D-Austin) and Lambert (R-Abilene) for joint authoring, and Representative Longoria (D-Mission) for co-authoring, SB 932.

 

Note: “Joint authoring” is limited to just 5 people, and it is viewed as being a greater show of support than “co-authoring.” Both levels deserve a thank you, though, for going above and beyond voting for the bill!

 

 

SAMPLING

Under HB 1694, any farmer or vendor at a farmers’ market can prepare and provide samples on-site so long as they meet some basic sanitation requirements:
  • Samples must be distributed in a sanitary manner.
  • A person preparing produce samples on-site must either wear clean, disposable plastic gloves while, or wash their hands in soap and water prior to, preparing the samples.
  • Potable water must be available for washing.
  • Utensils and cutting surfaces used for cutting samples must be smooth, nonabsorbent, and easily cleaned or disposed of.
  • Produce intended for sampling must be washed in potable water to remove any soil or other visible material; and
  • If the samples are potentially hazardous (such as cut produce), they must be either kept at 41 degrees or colder or disposed of within 2 hours of preparation.
As long as you meet these requirements, you can provide samples of the food you are selling at the farmers’ market to potential customers.

 

HB 1694 specifically includes cottage food producers selling at farmers’ market. The bill also applies to providing samples on a farm.

 

The local and state health department can enforce these standards; if you offer samples without complying, they can issue a citation and fine.

 

The local and state health departments cannot require you to get a special permit for sampling, impose any fees for sampling, or impose additional requirements.

 

This means:
  • No more “sampling permits.”
  • No more requirements for three-basin sinks, hot running water, etc.
The bill included clarifications to ensure that the special treatment provided for farmers’ market vendors is not used improperly:
  • You can only sample foods you are selling at the farmers’ market. So a food seller (farmer, value-added producer, chef, or other) can’t simply go to a farmers’ market and offer samples in order to gain clientele for their non-market place of business.
  • Cottage food operations can only provide samples of foods that they can legally sell. In other words, cottage food operations can provide samples of their baked goods, jams, pickles, etc. But while they can sell coffee beans, they can’t sell liquid coffee and therefore they can’t provide samples of liquid coffee.
Thanks to Representative Lambert (R-Abilene) and Senator Johnson (D-Dallas) for authoring the bill!

 

Thanks also go to Representatives Rodriguez (D-Austin), Flynn (R-Van), and Harris (R-Palestine) for joint authoring, and Rep. Zwiener (D-Driftwood) for co-authoring, HB 1694.

Read the bill here.