At The Farmer’s Market

By Howard Seltzer, FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

Shopping at a farmer’s market is a great way to get locally-grown, fresh fruit, vegetables, and other foods for you and your family. From 2008 to 2009, the number of farmers’ markets in the United States increased by more than 13 percent, a sign that fresh produce and other food items are becoming more accessible to all of us.

As these markets have grown more popular, we’ve been getting questions about the safety of the foods purchased there. Many markets have their own food safety rules, and vendors must comply with them, as well as any applicable government regulations. But, there are also basic guidelines that you should follow to ensure that the farm-fresh food is safe.

Produce

  • Before and after preparing fresh produce, wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water just before eating, cutting or cooking. We don’t recommend washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes.
  • Even if you plan to peel the produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first. Any bacteria present on the outside of items like melons can be transferred to the inside when you cut or peel them.
  • Be sure to refrigerate cut or peeled fruits and vegetables within two hours after preparation.

 

Juices and Cider

  • Check to see whether the juice or cider has been treated (pasteurized) to kill harmful bacteria. Pregnant women, children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems should drink only pasteurized or treated juice.

 

Milk and Cheeses

  • Don’t buy milk at a farmer’s market unless you can confirm that it has been pasteurized. Raw milk can harbor dangerous microorganisms, such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, that can pose serious health risks to you and your family.
  • Pregnant women, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk for illness caused by Listeria. One source for this bacteria is soft cheese made from unpasteurized milk. If you buy soft cheese (including feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, queso blanco, queso fresco, and panela), check the label to make sure that it’s made from pasteurized or treated milk.

 

Eggs

  • Make sure that eggs are properly chilled at the market. FDA requires that untreated shell eggs must be stored and displayed at 45°F. Before buying eggs, open the carton and make sure that the eggs are clean and the shells are not cracked.

 

Meat

  • Make sure that the meat is properly chilled at the market. Meat should be kept in closed coolers with adequate amounts of ice to maintain cool temperatures.
  • Bring an insulated bag or cooler with you to the market to keep meat cool on the way home.
  • Be sure to keep meat separate from your other purchases, so that the juices from raw meat (which may contain harmful bacteria) do not come in contact with produce and other foods.

 

 

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Author: Dr. Harlan Stueven, MD

Harlan Stueven M.D. is a Board-Certified Emergency physician with sub-specialization in Environmental Toxicology and Board Certification in Medical Toxicology. Starting his career in the USAF, he served as a Flight Surgeon and Environmental Health Consultant Physician where one of his duties was monitoring food safety. In his nearly 40-year practice, he treated a range of medical, surgical and poisoning emergencies. He has been a Medical Director and/or Chairman of several hospital-based Emergency Medicine Departments, served as the President of Emergency and Environmental Medicine consulting group, a physician group Chief Financial Officer and sat on many national, state and local committees. Dr. Stueven founded Dining Grades and the Dining Safety Alliance to improve food safety by increasing awareness of food borne illness and the formation of partnerships within the food industry. He is a consultant to the Wisconsin Retail Food Establishment Grading Work Group; a Co-investigator in a CDC funded “Evaluation of Health Department Restaurant Inspection Programs” project. He has presented at several National, State and Regional conferences on restaurant grading and food safety. He is an accomplished leader, medical researcher, a champion of process improvement, author, and national and international speaker.

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