The deliciousness of summer is upon us and no summer is complete without frequent visits to your local farmers market or produce stands. Local farmers markets offer a variety of locally grown fruits and vegetables, artisan cheeses, locally produced poultry, eggs and beef products that you may not easily find in your grocery store.
As you explore local markets be mindful of food safety issues. Vendors who are set up outdoors have limited access to refrigeration and are exposed to dirt, insects and pollutants. There may also be a lack of running water. These conditions do not prohibit you from shopping at these markets but should caution you to practice food safety for yourself. Here are some ways to reduce your risks of food borne illnesses when shopping at local farmers markets and roadside produce stands.
- Pay attention to the vendor’s food safety practices. Check for the stand’s overall cleanliness. Are they using coolers to keep items cool, do they wear gloves when handling cooked foods, do they have a covered trash can readily available at their station? Take notice of these practices.
- Carry a reusable grocery bag to the market. They are ecofriendly, inexpensive and chic. Have a least two and use one for raw meats and seafood and the other for produce and other market finds. Eliminate bacteria by washing the bags on a regular basis. Store your bags in a clean dry location and avoid storing them in the trunk of your vehicle.
- Place a cooler in the truck of your vehicle to store your purchases while transporting items home. Get these items into your home refrigerator within two hours of purchase to reduce risk of bacteria growth.
- When purchasing farm fresh eggs check to make sure they are clean and free of cracks.
- Avoid purchasing any produce with bruises, cuts or mold. Bacteria can easily hide in these places and grow rapidly. Before eating, cutting and cooking wash all fruits and vegetables under running water. This included items with peels, skins and rinds such as melons and bananas. Bacteria on the outside of melons and bananas can be transferred to the inside when you cut or peel them. To avoid any contamination, wash these items.
- When purchasing milk and cheese buy only pasteurized products. Juices and ciders should also be pasteurized. Avoid those that are not. A word of caution-Pregnant women, older adults, children and those with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk for illnesses caused by Listeria. Soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk and unpasteurized juices and ciders can be a place where Listeria is found. Cheeses including feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined, queso blanco, queso fresco and panela are all soft cheese that this population group should avoid.
- There are many prepared foods also sold at farmers markets. Remember that foods that are served hot must be kept hot and foods served cold must be kept cold. If you buy a perishable item, it should not remain unrefrigerated for over two hours and if the weather is 90°or above, no more than one hour. This is when your cooler will come in handy.
There are many fabulous farm stands and markets in Central Pennsylvania. Shopping at local markets is a great way to get to know and support your local farmers. If you haven’t yet found one in your community visit Farmer’s Market Online. If you are interested in learning more about food safety or becoming ServeSafe certified visit Penn State Extension at ServSafe