Picking up fresh produce at a farmer’s market is one of the rites of summer. Keeping that produce safe from bacteria requires a team effort on the part of growers, consumers and venders.
Many farmer’s market vendors have agreed to follow recommendations for food safety outlined by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. These guidelines pertain to samples that are served at the farmer’s markets as well as to the produce that is sold.
"Food safety responsibility starts on the farm and carries through to the consumer after they’ve taken products home," said Pat Kendall, Colorado State Cooperative Extension food safety specialist. "All foods have the potential to be contaminated during every step of production, storage and preparation."
Samples given out by venders may or may not fall under state health code requirements, depending upon whether or not their food is processed or prepared. Raw products and product samples are not regulated. Processed or prepared food, such as salsa and roasted chilies, are regulated by state law.
State regulations for processed food and guidelines for offering samples of raw agricultural products, such as fruit, all require basic sanitary conditions. These requirements include frequently washing hands and washing all products that are given as samples, cutting samples with sterile knives and serving them from sterile containers, and storing and transporting food safely.
Consumers should do their part to ensure food safety and quality when shopping at farmer’s markets. Kendall recommends purchasing only from venders who follow safe food handling recommendations and that consumers ask vendors for specific handling instructions for the food they buy. Processed food should be labeled as being processed in a facility that follows Good Manufacturing Practices.
Make the farmer’s market the last stop when shopping, Kendall adds. Don’t leave food in the car while running errands because bacteria grows easily at temperatures inside cars and trunks, which impact the quality and safety of the products. Shoppers who live a distance from farmer’s markets may want to bring coolers with ice packs to transport perishable items home.
Once home, food should be refrigerated or frozen immediately. Raw food should be kept separate from processed food, cold food should be kept cold and hot food should be kept hot.
For more information on preventing food-borne illness, call the local Cooperative Extension office, usually listed under the county government section of the phone book, or visit www.ext.colostate.edu and search for food safety.