Best practices for food safety when handling greens

Risk of foodborne illness in leafy greens can’t be eliminated, but there are steps growers and farm marketers can do to reduce the incidence of foodborne illnesses in leafy greens.

Changes in Michigan’s Food Code now classify cut leafy greens as a potentially hazardous food. That means that under the law, cut leafy greens must be treated like eggs, raw meat and other perishable products requiring refrigeration. This could complicate sales of some lettuce and spinach products at farmer’s markets.

To clarify, if you are simply harvesting spinach or baby lettuce, washing it and selling it, it is considered a raw agricultural commodity. If you mix greens or mix spinach with baby lettuce or mix herbs with lettuce, it is considered potentially hazardous. By adhering to a few best practices, farmers at farmers’ markets can both be in compliance with the Food Code and cost effectively market their products.

Know your market. Now more than ever, it will be important to have a sense for just how many bags of greens a grower sells on a weekly basis. Only bringing enough for the amount usually sold reduces the need to store or discard the excess product.

Keep them cool. It will now be important to keep cut leafy greens in a cool environment. A low-cost way to do this is having a portable cooler, often used for parties or picnics, to keep the greens in at market. By adding frozen, water-filled soda bottles to the cooler, they can provide a source of chilling. Providing a cool environment is only the first step.

Watch the temperatures of your greens. Verifying that the cooler is an appropriate temperature is also important. Place an inexpensive refrigerator thermometer in the cooler to determine the temperature inside it. Occasionally throughout the day, make a note of the temperature on the thermometer and write it down. The goal will be to keep the greens between 32 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

It’s important to note that whole heads of lettuce for sale at farmer’s markets are exempt from this law. Whole heads are considered raw agricultural commodities and need no special treatment under the law.

If you have specific questions about the Michigan Food Code or have difficulty implementing these changes to your farm activities, contact the Michigan State University Extension Agrifood Safety Work Group at or 517-788-4292.

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