There’s no doubt that farmers’ markets have become quite a big deal.
Fueled by a high demand for local grown and local produced food stuff, growth is almost always guaranteed.
This explains why there are more than 8,200 active farmers markets in the United States alone with the same trend being experienced in other parts of the world.
Everyday more and more farmers’ markets are being set up in many cities around the world. Tourists and locals alike would rather shop from these markets than anywhere else.
With valid reasons of course; among them, the idea of supporting local communities by buying local is very appealing.
Besides, it has been proven that fruits and vegetables sold at these venues are likely to be fresher and nutrient dense since the time they take from the farm to your plate is very minimal.
And With all this excitement and rapid growth, one vital challenge arises.
Just how safe is the food you purchase at your local farmers market? And how do they compare with their supermarket counterparts?
I sought to answer these questions and after a bit of digging into some data, here’s what I found.
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Based on this study done at several farmers market in Florida, it turns out that despite many consumers believing that locally grown fruits and vegetables are completely safe, these statistics prove otherwise.
Side note: this does not mean that all farmers markets have contamination issues. Those that follow regulations on food safety are completely free from foodborne illnesses. In fact I personally recommend shopping at trustworthy, safety conscious farmers markets.
The infographic above shows that the food samples taken from the farmers market had more levels of both coliforms and L. monocytogenes in comparison to the samples from the supermarket.
E. coli was prevalent in spinach by 5.8%, leafy greens by 2.6%, and tomatoes by 2.2% all present in the farmers’ market food products.
This is a good indication that of all the food stuffs, spinach might be more vulnerable to contamination. I might be wrong but there’s a good chance I’m right because the stats agree with me.
It is also important to mention coliforms were more prevalent in spinach samples and leafy greens.
Now, back to my questions:
Is the Food from the Farmers’ Markets Safe?
How about the supermarket groceries?
Before I try to explain why the experiment turned out the way it did, let me disclose that this isn’t a debate on whether farmers market food is better than those from the supermarket.
It’s rather an objective analysis of the food safety regardless their outlet so that you can safeguard your family.
Reasons why farmers’ markets produce are often unsafe
The interesting thing about this whole issue is that most consumers are unaware of the key contamination sources.
And I have the following findings to back up my claim.
In a yet another recent research conducted by International Association for Food Protection, Participants failed to identify many sources of potential microbiological contamination, with soil being identified as a source of pathogenic contamination by only 41% of participants and irrigation water by 51% of participants. Even fewer participants believed that contamination could result from ice (26%) or refrigeration and cooling (28%).
Most of these participants were right but others, I couldn’t help but laugh.
Let’s just explore why some farmers market’s produce might be unsafe.
- – Most farmers’ market vendors display their products in open spaces without the required facilities such as refrigerators, coolers and heaters. The rule of the thumb is to keep hot stuff hot and cool stuff cold – The supermarkets are very good at this.
- – Animal manure – some farmers in a bid to practice organic farming, use animal manure as a fertilizer which sometimes could be contaminated.
There are more reasons but I find these two more responsible for most contamination.
But all these issues should not stop you from getting your groceries from the farm markets. There are several ways on how shop responsibly.
Let’s explore some of them.
Safety Precautions According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
- Purchase produce that is not bruised or damaged.
- When selecting pre-cut or fresh-cut produce (such as a half a watermelon or bagged salad greens that have been cut), choose items that are refrigerated or on ice.
- Keep bagged produce separate from raw meat, poultry, and seafood in your cart and shopping bags.
- Wash produce under running water before eating, cutting, or cooking, and dry with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to further reduce disease-causing germs that may be present.
- Even if you plan to peel a fruit or vegetable, it’s often beneficial to wash it first so dirt and disease-causing germs aren’t transferred from the outside to the inside.
- Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush.
- For pre-packaged produce, read the label – if it says pre-washed and ready-to-eat, you can use it without further washing.
Prevent Cross Contamination
- Always wash hands before and after preparing food!
- Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with soap and hot water between the preparation of raw meat, poultry, and seafood and the preparation of produce that won’t be cooked.
- When using plastic or non-porous cutting boards, wash them in the dishwasher after use.
- Cut away damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables before preparing and/or eating.
- Discard produce if it looks rotten.
- Keep perishable fresh-cut produce in a clean refrigerator at 40° F or below.
- Store raw meat, poultry, and seafood separately from produce in the refrigerator.
- Always refrigerate produce that is purchased pre-cut or peeled.
Check Your Juice
- Young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems (such as transplant patients and individuals with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or diabetes) risk serious illnesses or even death from drinking juices that haven’t been pasteurized or otherwise treated to control disease-causing germs.
- Look for pasteurized or otherwise treated products in your grocers’ refrigerated sections, frozen food cases, or in non-refrigerated containers, such as juice boxes, bottles, or cans.
- Untreated juices sold in refrigerated cases of grocery or health food stores, cider mills, and farmers’ markets must contain a warning label indicating that the product has not been pasteurized. Warning labels are not required for juice or cider that is fresh-squeezed and sold by the glass. If you are unsure if a juice product is pasteurized – be sure to ask!
Well managed farmers’ markets ensure that all their vendors are compliant to key food safety regulations.
It’s your job to choose the right ones for your shopping.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments or find your favorite farmer’s market here and leave a review.