Liability Concerns for Food Hubs

It is important to clearly state the rights a Food Hub has to protect against liability and to provide a clear chain of actions should a food hub manager want to refuse products that are not what customers ordered, which are spoiled or contaminated, or otherwise not acceptable. Ideally, you read through and reference some of the items outlined in the Vermont Law Farmers Market Legal Toolkit.  It will explain why these matter and include easy-to-understand best practices you can apply. Reading through their recommendations on risk management will get you started on the path of managing a safely run food hub.

It’s also recommended that if you are using Local Food Marketplace you can set it up so new members and vendors need to sign an agreement that helps ameliorate liability. That being said, an attorney should write any waiver of liability or agreement you have people sign, otherwise they often do not have legal standing to hold up in court should something happen.

Example policies typically include the following:

  • What happens when a product is found to be unacceptable? Who will pay for them? Will the customer be refunded or the product replaced, if so by when?
  • Who will mediate between a customer and a producer if the customer is unhappy with the product for any reason? 

By doing so you both protect the food hub from litigation by following your policies and ensure that any issues are addressed in a consistent and fair process.


Safe food handling:

The most important safety concerns have to do with accepting products that have not been stored, handled, or processed in a way that is safe. We will cover those next, starting with examples of what kind of quality and customer issues Food Hubs typically have:

  • Dirty, wilted, or small produce.
  • Broken seal on frozen fish or canned cottage food
  • Improperly labeled, processed, or stored cottage foods

Clear Instructions for refrigerated storage: Don’t spoil the sauerkraut!

Many rules about how customers should handle fermented products like sauerkraut came about because of the food safety issues that were encountered. For example, Sauerkraut is often left at room temperature but in order to safely store it there must be refrigeration at distribution sites and during transport to prevent any food safety issues. This only became an issue as it became apparent that refrigeration was not always available during these times and the product would continue to ferment or be stored at warmer temperatures bringing it into potentially dangerous ranges where harmful bacteria could grow. As a result it is now important not only to follow the current rules and regulations posted by the DEC for handling them but also to include warnings to vendors selling those products like the following from the Alaska Food Hub manual:

“In regards to foods like pickles or sauerkraut, refer to DEC/MUNI regulations for the requirements for testing before selling at the Food Hub. It is your responsibility to obtain clearance on food products from the DEC/MUNI prior to selling, and proof of clearance/testing is required.”

Reach out to your DEC agent if you are at all confused about what is safe or allowed and what is not!


Create policies for how you will handle consumer complaints:

For example, what happens where there is bad produce that is reported by a customer after they have picked it up? Likewise, what is the policy for bad produce when it is discovered during drop off? Create clear procedures for working with vendors; standards for turning product away during receiving looks like. What to do if there are multiple complaints. How to handle refunds.

Example from the Alaska Food Hub manual:

“Giving credit to consumers for already consumed or purchased food that was found to not be satisfactory. Remove purchases from order if they have not been charged yet.”

Take accurate zoomed in photos:

Proper marketing and packaging of your products is essential to selling on food hubs and to increase sales.  While it is not a liability concern it is a customer satisfaction concern. We recommend you have clear photos of product that accurately reflect the quality and quantity of food you are selling. That being said the size of product photos has to be quite low to keep the marketplace fast and responsive on mobile phones, so also try to keep your photos simple and cropped in. When in doubt help your customers choose good photos! Good photos = more sales.

If you do not have a photo yet a stock photo can be temporarily used but should be labeled as such and replaced ASAP. This is helpful to get new sellers started since photography is seen to be a barrier by many new vendors. Also recommended is to take photos of producers and their products during drop off times for social, food hub product photos.

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