Microgreens have exploded in popularity in recent years. These young seedlings of vegetables and herbs provide an intense burst of flavor and are packed with nutrients. Chefs love decorating plates with these colorful greens, while health-conscious consumers add them to smoothies and salads for a nutritional boost.
With the rising demand for microgreens, many farmers and entrepreneurs are interested in getting into commercial production. However, there is often confusion surrounding the federal legal guidelines and regulations for growing and selling microgreens.
Unlike sprouts, which carry risks of foodborne illness and have come under FDA regulation, microgreens currently operate in a legal gray area. This article provides an in-depth guide to the FDA guidelines and regulations that apply to microgreens – from food safety protocols to licensing requirements.
We’ll cover key topics including:
- What are microgreens and how are they grown?
- The incredible health and nutritional benefits of microgreens
- FDA guidance for safely growing microgreen seeds and greens
- Licensing and regulations for commercial microgreens production
- Requirements for selling microgreens at farmer’s markets or online
- How to start a profitable and legal microgreens business
Key Takeaways on FDA Regulations for Microgreens
To recap the key points covered in this guide:
- Microgreens offer an intense nutritional boost but must be produced safely. Outbreaks linked to sprouts prompted FDA guidance.
- No specific FDA regulations for microgreens currently exist. However, general produce safety rules and guidance for seeds apply.
- Following GAPs and preventive controls during growing, harvesting, and storage helps mitigate risks.
- Most microgreens businesses need local business licenses and permits, but regulations vary greatly by location and sales models.
- Farmer’s markets have vendor rules. Online selling requires proper labeling, packaging, and messaging.
- Getting insured and licensed demonstrates responsibility and commitment to health and safety.
- Record-keeping, food safety training, and facility hygiene are critical to avoid legal issues.
Microgreens provide a way to add beauty and nutrition to menus. By understanding and following guidelines and regulations around safe growing, handling, and selling, your microgreens business can thrive while avoiding legal risks.
What Are Microgreens?
Before diving into legal guidelines, let’s start with a quick primer: what exactly are microgreens?
Microgreens are young seedlings of edible vegetables and herbs. They are harvested when the first true leaves have developed, usually 1-3 weeks after germination. This is later than sprouts, which are harvested as soon as the cotyledon (seed leaves) emerge.
Microgreens are usually grown in high-density trays or pots indoors. Growers sow the seeds thickly in a growing medium, then provide light and water until the first true leaves emerge. At harvest, microgreens are snipped off just above the root zone.
The tender young greens pack an intense concentration of nutrients and vivid colors. Let’s explore why microgreens have become such a hot nutritional commodity.
Table 1: Nutrient Levels in Microgreens vs Mature Greens
|Vitamin C||100-200% RDA||10-50% RDA|
|Vitamin K||100-400% RDA||5-15% RDA|
|Vitamin E||28-40% RDA||4-10% RDA|
|Beta-Carotene||100-300% RDA||10-50% RDA|
|Lutein/Zeaxanthin||100-150 mcg||3-5 mcg|
|Calcium||10-25% RDA||1-4% RDA|
|Iron||Up to 40% RDA||Up to 10% RDA|
|Magnesium||8-15% RDA||6-8% RDA|
The Incredible Health Benefits of Microgreens
These tiny seedlings serve up some huge health perks.
Microgreens contain up to 40x higher levels of vital nutrients compared to their mature counterparts. Concentrations vary by the specific vegetable or herb, but microgreens provide a megadose of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and bioactive compounds.
Just one ounce (about a handful) of microgreens provides:
- 100% of your RDA of vitamin K
- 40% of vitamin C
- Folate, vitamin E, and carotenoids like beta-carotene and lutein
- Polyphenols and glucosinolates with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
- Minerals like magnesium, iron, zinc, copper and manganese
Research shows microgreens may:
- Slow aging through high antioxidant capacity which reduces oxidative stress
- Support heart health by lowering LDL cholesterol and blood pressure
- Prevent cancer thanks to compounds that fight free radical damage
- Boost immunity through high vitamin C, E, and zinc content
- Improve eyesight due to carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin
- Build strong bones with ample calcium, magnesium, and vitamin K
With this incredible nutrition packed into every leaf, it’s no wonder top chefs adorn plates with microgreens and health-conscious consumers are adding them to smoothies, juices, and salads.
Of course, to reap these nutritional benefits, microgreens must be grown and handled safely to avoid contamination. So, what guidance has the FDA provided on microgreen production?
FDA Guidance on Safely Growing Microgreens
While microgreens offer exceptional nutrition, recent foodborne illness outbreaks have highlighted concerns about the safety of edible seedlings.
Most outbreaks have been linked to contaminated sprouts. Unlike microgreens, sprouts are germinated and harvested with the root intact which increases risks.
In response, the FDA created specific regulations for sprouts under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). However, microgreens are NOT covered under these FSMA sprout regulations.
But that doesn’t mean the FDA has ignored microgreen safety. Guidance has been provided to microgreen growers through:
- FDA’s Seed Safety Guidance – recommendations for safely growing seeds for sprouting, including testing irrigation water, using disinfectants, and conducting microbiological testing. This guidance applies to microgreen seeds too.
- Produce Safety Rule – general requirements for produce hygiene, worker training, agricultural water quality, etc. Microgreens fall under this as “covered produce.”
- Preventive Controls Rule – food safety plans, hazard analysis, and controls for facilities manufacturing, processing, packing, or holding human food. Applies to larger microgreen producers.
By following Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and implementing preventive controls, microgreen growers can help prevent microbial contamination at the source. Key aspects include:
Seed Selection & Treatment
- Purchase seed intended for microgreens from reputable suppliers. Avoid using seeds saved for planting.
- For seeds not treated by the supplier, consider soaking in diluted bleach, hydrogen peroxide, or other sanitizer to reduce pathogens.
- Use potting mix or media specifically formulated for microgreens. Avoid external soil or compost which may harbor pathogens.
- Only use clean agricultural water for irrigation, harvested rainwater, or municipally treated water. Avoid risky sources like surface water.
- Keep animals and pests out of growing areas to prevent transferring pathogens.
- Clean and sanitize surfaces, tools, and equipment. Wash hands frequently.
- Control temperature and humidity to inhibit microbial growth.
Harvest & Postharvest Handling
- Use clean knives, scissors, and collection containers to harvest greens.
- Rapidly chill harvested microgreens to 33-40°F within several hours of cutting.
- Monitor refrigerated storage temperature. Discard any microgreens that show signs of spoilage.
By starting with treated seeds and maintaining hygienic growing conditions, growers can mitigate food safety hazards. But what about selling microgreens? What permits and licenses are required?
Table 2: Microgreens Food Safety Guidance
|Production Stage||Key FDA Recommendations|
|Seed Selection||– Purchase from reputable suppliers|
– Consider sanitizing treatment
|Growing Conditions||– Use sterile seed starting mix|
– Test irrigation water
– Control pests
|Facility Design||– Wash stations for workers|
– Dedicated equipment for microgreens
– Temperature/humidity control
|Harvesting||– Clean knives, scissors, containers|
– Worker hygiene training
|Post-Harvest Handling||– Rapid cooling after harvest|
– Cold storage at 33-40F
– Monitor for spoilage
Regulations and Licenses for Selling Microgreens Commercially
Microgreens occupy a gray area when it comes to legal sale regulations. Specific licensing rules vary based on how and where you plan to sell the greens.
Let’s break down the permits and licenses commercial microgreen producers may need:
Nearly all microgreens businesses will need a general business license to operate legally, granted by state/local government. If using a trade name, you may also need a DBA. Registration fees are typically minimal.
Food Safety Certification
Some states require a food safety certificate to sell any produce, while others only mandate it for high-risk products like sprouts and juice. California, for example, requires a Producer Certificate to sell microgreens.
Farmers Market Permits
Selling at local farmer’s markets or farm stands generally requires a market permit per county/city. Some waive fees for vendors under a certain revenue threshold or only sell their own produce.
Cottage Food Operation Rules
In some states, licensed home kitchens can prepare certain “cottage foods” to sell locally. Microgreens may qualify but regulations differ. Be aware of ceilings on annual revenue.
To market microgreens as “organic,” growers must be certified according to USDA National Organic Program standards, a detailed process.
Product Liability Insurance
Product liability insurance protects microgreens businesses financially in case a customer gets sick. Having coverage signals credibility and responsibility.
Local Health Permits
Selling to restaurants, grocery stores, schools, hospitals or any food service business may require permits and inspections from local health departments. Requirements vary.
FDA Food Facility Registration
Microgreens operations with more than $1 million in annual sales must register with the FDA. Exempt if selling directly to consumers, stores, or restaurants.
Clearly, regulations involved in selling microgreens span a broad spectrum depending on the scale and approaches of your business model. Many microgreens producers opt to start small, selling through farmer’s markets, CSAs, and local stores to avoid the most stringent oversight.
However, properly licensing your business from the get-go establishes legitimacy and trust with consumers. Next, let’s look at specific requirements for farmer’s markets and online sales.
Table 3: Microgreens Business Licensing Requirements
|License/Permit||Required For||Granted By|
|Business License||Most producers||State or local government|
|Food Safety Certification||Varies by state||State department of agriculture|
|Farmers Market Permits||Selling at markets||City, county, or market organization|
|Cottage Food Operation Rules||Home kitchen sales||State department of agriculture|
|Organic Certification||Marketing as organic||USDA|
|Product Liability Insurance||Protection against lawsuits||Insurance companies|
|Local Health Permits||Selling to food service businesses||Local health departments|
|FDA Food Facility Registration||Large producers||FDA|
Regulations for Selling Microgreens at Farmers Markets
Farmers markets are a popular outlet for microgreens growers. Though regulations vary regionally, some tips for selling microgreens legally at markets include:
- Obtain all required county/city permits and display them prominently in your booth
- Follow market rules regarding setup, parking, waste disposal, samples, etc
- Label microgreens with the name of the produce and your contact info
- Keep greens chilled properly, using coolers or ice packs
- Package microgreens in food-safe containers like clamshells or bags
- Prepare samples hygienically – use toothpicks, gloves, clean cutting boards, etc
- Get any necessary certifications for organic claims, weights & measures
- Check if your state allows CFOs to sell at markets without a commercial kitchen
- Consider liability insurance to protect against customer illness claims
By following farmer’s market rules and regulations around health and safety, you can avoid legal issues when selling microgreens.
Requirements for Selling Microgreens Online
Online platforms like websites, Etsy, Amazon, and social media offer microgreens farmers access to huge markets of health-conscious consumers nationwide.
But shipping perishable produce introduces additional considerations:
- Check with your state department of agriculture on licenses required for selling produce online directly to consumers. Requirements vary.
- Package microgreens in insulated boxes with frozen gel packs to maintain cold temperatures during transit.
- Label greens with name of produce, harvest date, storage instructions, allergen warnings, and contact info per FDA Food Labeling Guide requirements.
- Consider including food handling and use instructions for consumers to prevent illness risks.
- Modify recipes and handling guidance for raw microgreens if selling across state lines. The FDA warns that children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems have a greater risk of foodborne illness.
- Look into Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification to communicate your commitment to food safety and build consumer trust.
With proper handling, packaging, labeling, and messaging, microgreens can be shipped nationwide while maintaining quality and safety.
Table 4: Microgreens Sales Outlets Regulatory Considerations
|Sales Approach||Key Regulations|
|Farmers Markets||– Market permits|
– Sampling rules
– Food safety protocols
|Online Sales||– State distribution licenses|
– Labeling for shipping
– Proper packaging
– Messaging about risks
|Restaurants/Retail||– Local health permits|
– Approved sources
|National Distribution||– FDA facility registration|
– FSMA produce safety rules
Starting a Profitable Microgreens Business Legally
If you’re interested in turning your microgreen gardening hobby into a successful business, it is possible with careful planning and preparation. Here are some tips:
- Research all relevant health codes, permits, and licenses required in your state and municipalities where you plan to sell microgreens.
- Draft a business plan including startup costs, financing options, insurance, projected revenue, and microgreens production goals.
- Build out your microgreen growing space and incorporate food safety features like wash stations, sanitizers, cold storage, and cleaning protocols.
- Establish accounts with distributors for consistent seed supply. Place bulk orders to keep costs down.
- Experiment with microgreen varieties to determine optimal growing conditions and profit margins. Track yields.
- Market continuously – social media, sales sheets to restaurants, cross-promotions with other vendors, etc. Nurture relationships.
- Consider niche markets like organic microgreens or specific ethnic varieties to stand out. Offer free samples to hook new customers.
- Expand sales channels cautiously as you scale up production. Don’t compromise on quality or safety.
- Keep immaculate records of expenses, sales, licenses, certifications, and standard operating procedures to prove legitimacy.
With attention to regulations and savvy business practices, microgreen farming can germinate into a lush, thriving, and most importantly legal enterprise.
Final thoughts: Safely Growing and Selling Microgreens Under Evolving Regulations
Microgreens provide an exciting opportunity for farmers, entrepreneurs, and health-focused consumers. The intense flavors and nutrition packed into these tender young seedlings explains their rising popularity.
However, maximizing public health benefits through this new food product requires responsible growing and handling practices. Foodborne pathogens pose risks when inadequate preventive controls are in place.
Although sprouts have come under FDA regulation, microgreens currently fall into a gray area. Specific federal rules do not yet exist, but following produce safety guidance is prudent. Thoroughly researching and complying with relevant state and local requirements provides a strong legal foundation too.
The microgreens industry is evolving rapidly, as is the regulatory environment. Joining trade associations, pursuing food safety training, and building relationships with local authorities will help producers anticipate and adapt to upcoming changes.
Microgreens offer society more than just unique flavors. They provide opportunities to empower small farmers, forge community connections, and improve nutrition access. But integrating food safety into every step of the supply chain is imperative to fulfill this promise while minimizing risks.
Though regulations continue to be refined, producers can proactively take science-based measures to strengthen prevention, transparency, and accountability. With diligence and collaboration, a thriving microgreens movement can blossom across America.