Know your farmer, know your food safety

Food safety tips for buying at the farmer’s market.

It’s finally summer, which means it’s time for farmer’s markets. Many markets around the state began at the end of May, but the best selection of foods starts in July and goes through early September. There are many advantages to shopping at farmer’s markets; fresher, tastier produce and your dollars are supporting the local economy. Just because market food is fresh and local doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about safety when handling, preparing and storing your produce. Michigan State University Extension recommends following these food safety tips when shopping at farmer’s markets this summer:

  • The best way to know the safety of farmer’s market food is to know the farmer who produced it. Take time each visit to have a short conversation with the vendors you frequent. Ask simple questions like when the produce was harvested, if they use organic or conventional fertilizers, or what their water quality standards for irrigation are, etc. Even better than having a conversation is a visit to the actual farm. Many farmers have farm visiting days, or ask them specifically for a personal tour if they have the time.
  • Look for a certificate of food safety education at each vendor’s station. Some vendors have taken food safety courses like Michigan Cottage Food Law or Good Agriclultural Practices (GAP) and are proud to display their credentials.
  • Hand-washing stations are a good indicator of food safety at markets. Look for the availability of these stations and see if vendors are using them.
  • Look for coolers or ice chests at vendor stations. Keeping produce fresh often means keeping it cool, and the use of a cooler will often indicate good safe food practices.
  • Personal hygiene and station cleanliness are also good indicators. Vendors wearing clean clothes and taking pride in having a clean selling station are more likely to take care in handling their produce.

Food safety doesn’t end at the market. Perishable, fresh produce such as lettuce, spinach, herbs and mushrooms should be transported in a cooler with ice until you get home. Items that do not need refrigeration, such as uncut tomatoes, potatoes, apples and carrots should be stored at home in a clean, cool place. Always wash your hands before and after preparing produce. Wash produce under running water before prepping, cooking or eating. Soap, detergent and commercial washes are not recommended. Be sure to wash all fruits and vegetables even if the skin will not be eaten, as pathogens from the outside may be transferred to the inside during cutting. Finally, refrigerate any cut fruit or vegetables within two hours (one hour if above 90 degrees Fahrenheit) of preparation.

For more information on food safety at farmer’s markets visit MSU Extension or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

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