Food Safety 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.
- 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. For more information, see Two Simple Steps to Juice Safety.
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. See Myths about Raw Milk for details.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
If you have comments about food safety at the farmer's market, feel free to submit them here. If you have a question and need an answer quickly, check the Ask the Experts page.
Please keep in mind that buying local produce is the fresher choice, but as a food safety professional I can tell you local produce isn't always safe.
These tips especially apply to shopping at your local super market as more children shop with their parents and tend to want to handle items like their parents.
As far as the eggs go -- your advice is to look at them? Seriously? If I don't see salmonella in the yolk or e.coli on the shell, I can safely make tiramisu?
Farmers market are an excellent way for the public to buy nutritional real food rather than the processed foods we as Americans seem to love so much. And if it is organic all the better still
I have cut down a lot on package food since I learnt about aspartame. and buy at the farmer market.
I was surprised at how often we observed people taking "a sample" without washing item, such as grape, berry, section orange, etc from vendors. Some put out probably all day others I guess they just sampled. This market is 9-9, and people came from various states as it is one day a week for 50 + years. I did not see anyone wipe down picnic tables that were for the outside food vendors; and children were eating dropped food off it and some kids were sitting on the tables, now it is summer and they had shorts on, but it made me shiver. I taught my children to make sure they knew how fresh a sample was when offered; the were taught to be sure they wiped tops of places ate off or used many napkins or the wrapper of their food. I used to carry soapy wash clothes in plastic bags and napkins, now of course we use santi items in bottles. When items were purchased many folks began sharing with group/family as if they did not care that when it was outside vendor you know it had car fumes, dust, etc! I guess their thoughts are a little dirty never hurt anyone?