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Ford County

Farmers Market Food Safety

Farmers markets offer a food shopping option for consumers and allow them to support the local economy and local farmers. But, when shopping at farmers markets, it's important that consumers follow certain safety precautions and ask the right questions to find out more about the foods.

A lot of the food safety precautions that consumers take with foods purchased at the farmers market are common to the precautions taken with foods bought at the grocery store. Shopping at a farmers market is a great way to get locally-grown, fresh fruit, vegetables and other foods for you and your family. But there are basic guidelines that you should follow to ensure that the farm-fresh food is safe.

"Make sure the produce is clean, that it's a nice intact piece of produce," said Londa Nwadike, a food safety extension specialist with Kansas State University and the University of Missouri. "If you're buying cut or peeled produce, make sure that it's surrounded by ice or is being kept cold."

What to look for:

  • Fresh Produce - clean, looks fresh, no cuts or nicks
  • Cut or Peeled Produce - surrounded by ice and looks fresh and cold
  • Meats, Eggs & Cheese - product is in cooler or on ice
  • Milk and Juice - buy only pasteurized items
  • Home Canned Food - ask how it was prepared and handled
  • Booth & Personal Cleanliness - vendors have clean clothes, hands, no wiping nose, etc.

When looking at meats, eggs and cheese to purchase, it's important to ensure that the products are either in a cooler or on ice, Nwadike said. These products need to be kept cold to maintain their freshness. Another item to study carefully is milk.

"If you're buying milk at a farmers market, it is a regulatory requirement that the milk sold at the farmers market has to be pasteurized," Nwadike said. "Check with the vendor and ask if it's pasteurized, just to be sure. Pasteurized is much safer."

"You can always ask the vendors about their food safety practices; you can always ask them how they make it and how they raise it,' she added. "Just find out more from them about what they're doing, and that can give you some information about safety (of the product)."

When it comes to determining the food's origin, the best way to find out is by communicating with the farmer. Ask questions such as how the farmer raised it and what safety precautions he or she took, which can give consumers a better idea of the potential risk of foodborne illness, she said.

"There's a number of different foodborne illnesses that could be connected with unsafe produce. Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria are all different organisms that have been associated in the past with produce," Nwadike said. "The entire chain just needs to make sure to pay attention to food safety from the farmer all the way to the consumer."

Ford County Extension Family and Consumer Science Agent, Ethel Schneweis suggests consumers wash all produce before use! She also suggests the following safety tips for transporting farmers market goods home:

  • Keep raw meat separate from other foods.
  • Make the market your last stop.
  • Use cooler/insulated bags, especially if takes more than one hour to get home.

Understanding Marketing Terms

Some terms used to describe food, such as "natural" and "organic," are regulated by governing agencies, Nwadike said. However, there are terms that are not regulated, and it's important to keep an eye out for terms on food labels that could be misleading.

"Some farmers markets might have their own requirements for terms that can be used or can't be used (for marketing)," she said. "I hear stories that farmers markets won't allow people to use the term 'organic' unless it's certified organic. 'Organic' is a term with a federal definition, and you have to meet requirements if you're going to say that this product is 'organic'."

Most other terms do not have a regulated government definition, so asking the farmer what different terms mean can leave consumers better informed.

"'Natural' is one term that has a regulated definition for meat products, but there is not regulated definition for 'natural' for anything other than meat products." Nwadike said. "If a farmer is using a particular term on the label, such as 'healthy' or even 'local,' you can ask the farmer to find out more information. There are varying definitions out there for local foods. Always checking with the farmer is the best way to know for sure what a lot of those terms might mean."

A couple publications were revised in 2016 are available through K-State Research and Extension about Kansas Farmer's Market Regulations and Best Practices and Sampling Safely at Kansas Farmers Markets, Farm Stands, and Related Events and Starting a Seasonal Open-Air Market in Kansas.