Evaluating the farmers market from a food safety perspective

Farmers markets are a great place to find healthy, wholesome food. To ensure the food purchased is as wholesome as it can be, customers may consider a few things when evaluating food safety practiced by growers at the farmers market.

Fresh produce is good for one’s health, and Michigan State University Extension says there are often economic and social benefits to buying the produce from a farmers market. From a food safety perspective, however, a nasty foodborne illness from fresh produce might undo the health benefits of eating it. When shopping at a farmers market, customers may wish to consider the following when evaluating produce at the farmers market.

Is highly perishable food kept on ice or in a cooler?

Food that can make you sick, like meats, eggs and dairy products, should be kept cold to reduce the chances of foodborne illness. If a vendor keeps these products exposed to air temperatures, this could reduce the shelf-life of the product or make a consumer sick. Vendors who take pains to have coolers for eggs and dairy products are working to ensure a safe, wholesome farm stand.

Does the farmer remind you to wash your produce before you eat it?

As you might expect, produce may be handled by a number of people before you bring it home. If the vendor handling produce was frequently washing his or her hands and reminding buyers to wash the produce prior to being eaten, this shows that the vendors care enough about food safety to incorporate it into their operations.

Are the farmers using farming practices that seem to help ensure a safe product?

A useful exercise is to simply ask farmers what they’re doing to ensure the safety and quality of the food they’re selling. The answer to this question should influence whether you buy from them or not. The best answer to this question will highlight practices the farmer is doing, like making sure they irrigate with and wash produce in water that is demonstrated to be potable. If the vendor uses manure, an application at least 120 days prior to harvest and at least two weeks prior to planting is the industry standard. If the answer is a blank stare, that may also speak volumes. How do they measure up?

No matter how many precautions we all take to reduce risk of foodborne illness, we cannot reduce the risk of getting sick to zero. We can, however, take practical steps to make the food we eat safer. We all have a role to play in keeping food safe from farm to table.

If you are a farmers market vendor and would like more information on implementing good food safety practices in your operation or your market stall, contact the Agrifood Safety Workgroup at 517-788-4292 or at gaps@msu.edu.

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