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Farmers’ Markets Food Safety. Here’s What You Need to Know

By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD (Proactive Health Labs)

I love farmers’ markets. They’re great for getting outside and changing up the sometimes mundane trip to the grocery store. It’s also great to support local businesses that offer fresh, healthy foods. It can also be beneficial to bring your child to a farmers’ market. Seeing the array of colorful, fresh produce and learning about where these foods come from can be empowering for children. Instead of seeing fruits and vegetables as foods they have to eat, they may see them as foods they want to eat. The tasty, free food samples also add to the fun.

Farmers’ markets are so popular that there are even “in-office” markets. The market may not actually be inside an employee’s office, but it is at a person’s place of work (perhaps in the parking lot). In-office farmers’ markets are becoming a more common work perk and something that workers really appear to enjoy having access to.

“While there are no specific numbers tallying just how many worksite farmers markets there are, the U.S. Department of Agriculture counts 8,742 farmers markets (which are self reported, so there could be more) in its national directory,” according to one report.

Some employers report that having this company incentive has resulted in less sick days and happier and more engaged employees.

But when we pay a visit to the farmers’ market, whether it’s at work or at our leisure, we need to keep a few precautions in mind.

According to a recent study, many vendors at farmers’ markets do not always abide by food safety practices that are implemented to prevent the spreading of foodborne illnesses. The study examined farmers’ markets in Pennsylvania. According to a report on the study, there are more than 8,500 farmers’ markets in the United States, and food safety risks have increased.

“Areas where vendors in the study fell short included hand-washing, personal hygiene and cross-contamination. There was low use of disposable gloves, even among vendors who sell unpackaged, ready-to-eat foods. Only 24 percent of vendors had disposable gloves at their stands, the study revealed.”

Some other disturbing findings were that samples of leafy green produce and meats sold at farmers’ markets had evidence of E.coli bacteria. E.coli was found in:

40 percent of beef samples
18 percent of pork samples
28 percent of kale samples
29 percent of lettuce samples
17 percent of spinach samples
Listeria was also found in:

8 percent of beef samples
2 percent of kale samples
4 percent of lettuce samples
7 percent of spinach samples

How Can You Be Proactive?

First, always wash your fresh produce thoroughly when you get home. I would highly recommended using an organic spray wash and triple rinsing. Foodsafety.gov also has some very useful tips when visiting the farmers’ market (some of them I have never even thought of):

Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap before washing your produce
Even wash produce that will be peeled
Purchase produce that is not bruised or damaged
If you are buying pre-cut produce, only buy items that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice
Don’t buy milk unless you can confirm that it has been pasteurized (do the same for juice and cider)
Make sure that eggs are chilled
Go for meat and poultry that is kept in closed coolers
Bring an insulated bag or cooler with you for your meat, seafood and poultry purchases. This will help ensure you get it home in a safe manner
These warnings are not meant to scare you away from farmers’ markets. Truth is, there’s always some risks when it comes to food safety (even if you are dining at a 5-star restaurant). But being armed with this information can help you make healthy decisions.

I am a big advocate of farmers’ markets. After all, I grew up on a farm and it is great to have so many nutrient-dense, whole foods right at your fingertips. We all need fresh produce in order to ensure we are getting all of the essential nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, to help ward off disease and maintain our overall health. But like everything else in life, it is important to be aware of both the advantages and disadvantages.

Enjoy your healthy life!

Joy Stephenson-Laws is founder of Proactive Health Labs (pH), a national nonprofit health information organization with a diverse team of health care professionals who are experts in making complex health and health-related topics easy-to-understand and easy for your audience to apply to their daily lives. The team, which includes doctors, attorneys, athletes and nutritionists, are available to comment on a wide variety of health topics, including the minerals story below. Joy is also a healthcare attorney and managing partner at Law Offices of Stephenson, Acquisto & Colman, Inc., the law firm of choice for the healthcare industry and author of the book, Minerals.

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