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.
Family reunions and picnics are great for the heart and soul but sometimes not for the body. Many foodborne illness outbreaks have been traced to food served at large family gatherings, for a number of different reasons:
- Lots of cooks in the kitchen: From eccentric aunts to teenage trainees, cooks of varying food-handling skills have prepared the foods for the buffet or gathering. As a result, food may not have been cooked to a hot enough temperature to destroy bacteria, or it may have been left out in the temperature “Danger Zone” (40 to 140 ºF) where bacteria thrive.
- Warm summer days: Making the problem worse is that reunions and big family gatherings are often held in the summer. Bacteria grow and multiply faster in warm, summer months, including the harmful bacteria that can make you sick.
- The Great Outdoors: Another reason for the upswing in foodborne illnesses is reunions and gatherings are held outside when the weather is nice. The safety controls that a kitchen provides (such as thermostat-controlled cooking, refrigeration, and washing facilities) are usually not available.
Given these challenges, what’s the best way to ensure a food safe reunion? My advice is to get back to the basics: Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill.
Clean: Always wash your hands before and after handling food. If you’re outdoors and the site doesn’t have running water, bring water for preparation and cleaning; or pack clean, wet, disposable cloths or moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces.
Separate: Be smart and keep foods apart. Cross-contamination during preparation, grilling, and serving food is a prime cause of foodborne illness. Plan ahead and bring extra platters and utensils. Don’t let your favorite uncle take the raw burgers off a plate, grill them, and put them back on the same (unwashed) plate.
Cook: If you are cooking or bringing hot takeout foods, keep hot foods hot (140 ºF or above). Eat hot takeout food within 2 hours of pickup (that includes fried chicken!). Use a grill, campfire or portable stove to heat foods, and bring a food thermometer to make sure the food reaches safe temperatures. Check our Minimum Cooking Temperatures chart for details.
Chill: When you are enjoying food in the great outdoors, always keep cold foods cold (40 ºF or below). If you are traveling with cold foods, bring a cooler with a cold source.
Questions and Answers
Updated August 2, 2010
Q. If you get sick after eating food at a family reunion on a hot day, what is the sickness called besides "food poisoning"?
A. There are a number of different illnesses that result from eating contaminated food. Our Food Poisoning page provides links to details on the most common causes, including potential food sources.
Keep in mind that it's hard to know exactly which food caused the illness. As we discussed in our Complex Mystery blog, “When people get sick from food, they often assume the cause was the last thing they ate before they started feeling sick. That’s often not the case…. The cause could have been something they ate several days ago, something they might not even remember eating.”
Homemade ice cream is a treat many of us look forward to in summer. But each year that same treat causes many cases of Salmonella. The ingredient responsible? Usually raw or undercooked eggs.
Eggs are a standard ingredient in most homemade ice cream recipes. They add flavor and color, prevent ice crystallization, and make for that smooth and creamy texture. To prevent this ingredient from causing harmful infections, just follow these guidelines for safe cooking and handling.
Cooking the Egg Base
At the FDA, we advise consumers to start with a cooked egg base for ice cream. This is especially important if you’re serving people at high risk for foodborne infections: infants, older adults, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems.
To make a cooked egg base (also known as a custard base):
- Combine eggs and milk as indicated in the recipe. (Other ingredients, such as sugar, may be added at this step.)
- Cook the mixture gently to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F, stirring constantly. The cooking will destroy Salmonella, if present. Use a food thermometer to check the temperature of the mixture. At this temperature, the mixture will firmly coat a metal spoon (but please don’t lick the spoon if the custard is not fully cooked!).
- After cooking, chill the mixture before adding other ingredients and freezing.
You can also use egg substitute products or pasteurized eggs in your ice cream, or you can find a recipe without eggs.
- With the egg substitute products, you might have to experiment a bit with the recipe to figure out the right amount to add for the best flavor.
- Pasteurized eggs can be substituted in recipes that call for uncooked eggs. Commercial pasteurization of eggs is a heat process at low temperatures that destroys any Salmonella that might be present, without having a noticeable effect on flavor or nutritional content. These are available at some supermarkets for a slightly higher cost per dozen. Even if you’re using pasteurized eggs for your ice cream, both the FDA and the USDA recommend starting with a cooked egg base for optimal safety.
So, by following these safe handling and proper cooking practices, you can enjoy refreshing, tasty homemade ice cream without worrying about making anyone sick!