Farmers’ market is a great way to buy fresh, local foods while supporting local farmers and artisans. They are growing in popularity these days. They provide a great way to ensure that the sales directly go back to the farm. And let’s face it, what is better than warm sun and the smell of fresh cut flowers while you pick your produce?
But there have been some concerns about the food safety at these markets.
That being said, here are some basic guidelines that you should follow while shopping at the farmers’ market.
The first step to food safety is to check the product. If the produce looks swollen, bruised or damaged, don’t buy it. If the fruit or a vegetable looks fresh, but has a nick through which bacteria can travel through, you should be careful before buying especially the ones you are not going to wash. Fruits like watermelon and mangoes are not washed after cutting, so don’t buy them if they are bruised.
If you are buying pre-cut produce, such as: watermelon, pineapple, etc. then make sure they are either refrigerated or surrounded by a lot of ice.
After coming home, first wash your hands thoroughly under running water for around 20 seconds. Then, start with cleaning fruits and vegetables. We do not recommend using soap or any other kind of commercial product while washing the produce. You should wash the product even if you plan on eating them after peeling them off as the bacteria can get transferred from the outer part to inner part through your hands. You need to wash each vegetable according to their specifications like leafy vegetables should be rinsed while root vegetables, such as potatoes, should be scrubbed too.
The best way to know whether the product is safe is to know where it came from. And who can better tell you this then the farmer himself. This is one of the great thing about the farmers’ market that you can talk to the supplier himself. Use this chance to interact with them, learn their story, and their growing practices. You would be surprised to find out how many farmers sell natural and organic products, but can’t afford to put a tag due to the cost that comes with green and white label.
Juices and Cider
Make sure that the juices and the cider that you buy are pasteurized. Pasteurization is the only way to kill harmful germs in these products. The best thing to do is read the label. If you are still in doubt, well you are in the farmers market, your supplier is standing right in front of you – Just ask! If you come across freshly squeezed juice, then look for signs of cleanliness of the produce. This is a good way to know that juice is safe. Pregnant women, children, older people, and those with compromised immune system should be warier of unpasteurized products.
Milk and Cheeses
Do not buy milk and cheese unless you are sure that it has been pasteurized. You should confirm this by asking the farmer or checking the label. Raw milk harbors a range of dangerous microorganisms such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria. They can pose serious health to anyone eating them especially high-risk individuals like children, elders and pregnant women. Even soft cheese should be avoided like queso blanco, queso fresco, feta, brie, camembert, and panela. Check the label of the cheeses to make sure they are made from pasteurized milk.
Make sure that the meat that you buy is properly kept cold at the market. All the meat products should be kept at a cooling temperature with proper amounts of ice so that the storage temperature is maintained. You should carry an insulated bag or cooler with you if you do plan on buying meat at the market. This ensures that proper temperature of the meat is maintained during traveling. Keep fresh produce separate from raw meat as cross contamination can occur. You should also keep raw meat separate in your freezer both from the produce and from other cooked foods.
Eggs should be clean and the shells should not be cracked. According to FDA guidelines, untreated shell eggs should be stored at a temperature of at least 45℉.
Cottage foods are products, such as: baked goods like breads, pickles, salsa, jams, jelly, etc. These foods are not temperature sensitive and are generally safe. They can be prepared in home kitchen instead of commercial kitchen as there is no regulatory jurisdiction governing them. When they come from a home kitchen, the food needs to be labeled properly. This means that it is not inspected by any health care inspector.
This makes it difficult to ensure it is safe. But there are a few ways. The first thing to do is to check the packaging and see if the item is nicely sealed or canned. Improper canning has a risk of causing botulism. Botulism is rare, but deadly. You can always ask questions about the food safety measures they took during preparing the product.
Commercial food vendor is another type of vendor you can find at the farmers market. These can be food trucks, foods prepared and prepped on-site or foods that are prepared off-site but prepped on-site. These foods are also not dangerous and can be purchased without much worry. Just look out for common food safety symptoms such as whether the supplier is equipped with proper hand washing facilities like soap, water dispenser, buckets etc., the vendor has gloves on and is following proper food handling practices.
You should know that each state in US have their own set of rules and procedures that govern their farmers market. Check out the site: http://forrager.com/laws for more information on the regulations that are imposed on the farmers market in your state. If you want to know the proper procedure, check out the ‘become a vendor’ on the page to know proper guidelines. There could be considerable difference between one state to another. Some might have much more stricter regulations than others.
By: Pooja Sharma, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)