Summer is on the way!
If you are like Detective Foodsafe®, you can’t wait for the promise of fresh fruits and vegetables that gardens across the country will be producing.
Soon it will be time to visit to your local Farmers’ Market or produce stand, even if you have your own backyard garden.
Many people (including Detective Foodsafe) think about their food safety when buying food at the chain supermarket especially when the news is full of reports about tainted food from grocery store shelves.
But are we at risk when we eat food we hand-picked from the Farmers’ Market, food that was grown locally?
One of the simplest ways to practice food safety is by washing your hands. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen as it should at the farmers’ market or by the growers bringing in their goods.
There are training programs in place that help growers and sellers follow good food safety practices so that they won’t contaminate the food we hope to enjoy all summer long (and throughout the year for some lucky consumers).
What Farmers’ Market Growers Should Do to Keep You Safe
When we buy food in the supermarket that is packaged and processed in one way or another, we expect a certain amount of safe food handling to have occurred from field to table.
Growers should also follow a few simple guidelines to keep us all free from food poisoning when they grow, pick, transport, and sell their produce and other foodstuffs at Farmers’ Markets or roadside produce stands.
Here are some of the things we ought to expect from growers when we purchase their items according to Detective Foodsafe:
- They and the people who handle the foods wash their hands frequently.
- If food vendors are ill, they should not handle any food products or any utensils that come in contact with food, especially produce intended to be eaten raw.
- Food handlers should cover all wounds to protect food from exposure.
- Sellers should maintain personal hygiene when at the market.
- Inform the public in writing with signage that tells exactly where the food was grown, such as whether it was grown locally on the farm or brought in elsewhere.
- Keep their food off the ground so it is out of harm’s way from pets or varmints; place food on clean display tables. If necessary, store large items like pumpkins on tarps on the ground.
- Cover food to keep it from being contaminated in the open air.
- Have samples for touching to keep consumers from touching all items and possibly spreading germs.
- Keep some produce bagged and ready for quick sale to avoid it being touched by consumers and potentially contaminated.
- Put produce in the shade, which may require using a portable tent or canopy.
- If selling baked items, always individually wrap all items.
- Remind us to wash all produce that we purchase from the farmers’ market (very important, even if they have practiced safe food handling)!
Some Farmers’ Markets now have a “no pets” rule (with the exception of service animals) and no smoking guidelines, so check before you go if this is a concern for you.
Processed Foods at the Farmers’ Market
When a vendor at the farmers’ market sells canned or processed foods, most states have regulations that help to keep us safe from contamination.
Items such as home-made canned jams, jellies, pickles, relish, vinegars, chutney, and foods with a specific pH may be exempt from regulations.
If a food requires heating, freezing, or cooling; has a low acid content; or, is apple cider or fruit juice, eggs or foods containing eggs, honey, oil mixtures, smoked meat, jerky or raw milk; it must abide by regulations, including the Food Code.
All home-made foods need to be labeled, dated, contain the name and address of producer, contain an ingredient list, and carry a disclaimer that reads it was not produced in a commercial kitchen and may contain allergens, so that the consumer is fully aware of any potential risks.
Rewards of the Market
There are many benefits to going to the Farmers’ Market. We shouldn’t fear the risk of foodborne illness when we eat locally grown produce.
Naturally, we enjoy getting the freshest produce and local items at the same time we support local farmers.
Getting to know the growers and their farming practices gives us the knowledge of how safe our foods are at the point of purchase.
When we buy produce in season, we often get foods at the peak of ripeness bursting with flavor and the greatest variety.
Spending an afternoon walking in the stalls surrounded by the rainbows of produce, the sun on your face and the comraderie of your community at the Farmers’ Market pays benefits for the entire family.
Practicing food safety, no matter where we buy our food, is important everyday — even at the Farmers’ Market!