Fresher Doesn’t Equal Safer
By: Drew Barkley
Last summer I spent a Saturday morning with a friend at a farmer’s market that sets up every week from April through November. We enjoyed looking at the different booths and products, many of which came from here in central Ohio. As we went down the row of booths, we tried some kettle corn, different salsas, and purchased some salted chocolate donuts. Continuing down the row, we came across a cheese booth. While my friend, still in a “try everything” mode, started to sample the different cheeses, I decided to pass after reading “unpasteurized” on the label. The stop at this booth reminded me that just because food is locally sourced and fresher, it doesn’t mean that it’s safer.
When we’re making trips to our local farmer’s market this spring, it is important to keep food safety in mind and be aware of the potential risks. There are several guides online that offer some simple steps you can take while at the farmer’s market to be sure the food you buy is safe. One common piece of advice is to ask the vendor about their food safety practices. Do they wash their produce? How are meat products stored and handled? Asking questions like these can give you a better idea of the procedures vendors have in place for food safety. Another tip, one that I remembered at the cheese stand, is to avoid raw dairy or unpasteurized dairy products. The FDA warns about the serious health risks associated with raw milk and milk products that can harbor dangerous bacteria. Even if vendors mention they’ve tested the product for bacteria, there is still a greater chance of becoming sick so it is best to avoid these products. Two final tips are to save perishable items for last and be sure to wash produce. The less time perishables spend in your shopping bag and out in the heat, the better. By washing your produce before eating, you can reduce surface contamination, and make the fruits and veggies safer to eat.
I want to emphasize that my goal is not to discourage people from buying food from farmer’s markets. I think farmer’s markets are a great place to spend time with friends and family and find foods or products you couldn’t otherwise find in a grocery store. However, we do still need to be mindful about the risks, and by keeping food safety in mind while wandering the rows of vendors, you can make safer purchases. Below are some links with more farmer’s market food safety tips if you’re interested in learning more ways to make safe choices at the farmer’s market.
Graduate Research Associate
CFAES Department of Food Science and Technology