by Howard Seltzer, FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
Shopping at a farmer’s market or a farm stand is a great way to get locally-grown, fresh fruit, vegetables, and other foods for you and your family.
As the numbers of these markets have grown, there may be questions about the safety of the foods purchased there. Many state and local governments have their own food safety rules for these markets, and vendors must comply with them. But, there are also basic guidelines that you should follow to ensure that the farm-fresh food you buy is safe.
- Purchase produce that is not bruised or damaged.
- When buying pre-cut produce — such as a half a watermelon or cut veggies from a salad bar — choose only items that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice.
- Make sure fresh fruits and vegetables are bagged separately from meat, poultry, and seafood products when packing them to take home from the market.
- Before and after handling fresh produce at home, wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap.
- Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water just before eating, cutting, or cooking. Even if you plan to peel the produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first. Any bacteria present on the outside of items like melons can be transferred to the inside when you cut or peel them.
- Be sure to refrigerate cut or peeled fruits and vegetables within 2 hours after preparation.
Juices and Cider
Check to see whether the juice or cider has been treated (pasteurized) to kill harmful bacteria. Pregnant women, children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems should drink only pasteurized or treated juice. For more information, see Two Simple Steps to Juice Safety.
Milk and Cheeses
- Don’t buy milk at a farmer’s market unless you can confirm that it has been pasteurized or otherwise treated to destroy microorganisms. Raw milk can harbor dangerous bacteria, such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, which can pose serious health risks to you and your family.
- Pregnant women, older adults, and people with immune systems weakened by such conditions as diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS, liver or kidney disease, alcoholism, and organ transplants are at higher risk for illness caused by Listeria. One source for these bacteria is soft cheese made from unpasteurized milk. If you buy soft cheese (including feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, queso blanco, queso fresco, and panela), check the label to make sure that it’s made from milk that has been pasteurized.
- Make sure that eggs are properly chilled at the market. FDA requires that untreated shell eggs must be stored and displayed at 45°F.
- Before buying eggs, open the carton and make sure that the eggs are clean and the shells are not cracked.
- Meat and Poultry
- Make sure that meat or poultry is kept in closed coolers with adequate amounts of ice to maintain cool temperatures.
- Bring an insulated bag or cooler with you to keep meat and poultry cool on the way home.
- Be sure to keep meat and poultry separate from your other purchases, so that the juices from raw meat or poultry (which may contain harmful bacteria) do not come in contact with produce and other foods.
- Canned and Jarred Vegetables and Vegetable-Based Sauces
- Because many vegetables and some vegetable-based sauces have a low acid content they must be canned properly to prevent the bacteria that cause botulism to grow and produce toxin in sealed cans and jars. That’s why FDA requires all canners of low-acid foods that will be sold, no matter how small their business may be, to register and submit information about their canning processes to the agency. Many states have similar requirements.
- Botulism is rare, but the bacteria in soil can survive, grow, and produce toxin in a sealed can or jar of food that was not processed properly. This toxin can affect your nerves, paralyze you, and may cause death. Even taking a small taste of food containing this toxin can be deadly. In 2014, two young women became seriously ill after eating pesto sauce from a California farm stand that tested positive for botulism bacteria. The sauce came from a canner who was not registered with FDA and not licensed by California.
- While there is no indication on labels that a low-acid food canner is registered with FDA, before buying, say, a can or jar of corn, beets, string beans or pesto at a farmers market, it’s very important to ask the seller if the canner is registered. If the seller doesn’t know, don’t buy it.
© 2015 US Food Safety Corporation. No copyright claim is made for portions of this blog and linked items that are works of the United States Government, state governments or third parties.