I have been wanting to write this post for a while, but things have been a little crazy around here. When I do manage to sit down with the computer, I fall asleep. It is just the way it goes. Not to mention, it has been hot outside. I must be getting older because the heat just zaps me lately. I am trying to make a conscious effort to drink more water and stay hydrated, but the cold hard facts are that my iced coffee helps me get more things done. It is quite a dilemma.
I hate to do this to you, but it is time for me to get on my soap box for a minute or twenty. I just try to provide information here. What you do with it is your business, but having been on both sides of the Farmer's Market I may have a little insight. Not to mention that I have a healthy addiction to reading as much as I can about food safety.
I highly recommend you visit a website called Food Safety News.
You can click on the link HERE!
I love this site. On the home page you can subscribe and they will send you emails daily with what is going on regarding our food in this country. You would not believe the number of food recalls that happen daily and you never see it on the evening news. Like the dog food recall that happened recently. Have a dog? I have three and when this was happening, two of them were throwing up a lot. My brand of dog food was on the list, but the bag that I had was manufactured in a separate facility. Whatever was going on, my dogs did not like it. I changed their food and problem solved.
Did you know that people can get salmonella from a pet that has it or from handling contaminated dogfood?
Back to the Farmer's Market thing. I think the market is great. I have fond memories of going with my Mom when I was little. I encourage people to go and meet the people that are growing your food, buy local and in-season. The problem is that the market has changed. They are becoming more and more popular these days, but the number of actual farmers is not increasing. It seems there are more produce companies and less farmers. What is the difference? A produce company is buying produce wholesale and reselling it. A farmer is growing it.
In our area a lot of guys are running down to the farmers market in Dallas and buying from the wholesale produce companies. They haul a week's worth of produce back and then set up a couple of times a week and resell it. I see no problem with this, if you are honest about what you are doing. Most aren't. I can't say I see no problem, the fact is that from a food safety stand point it could be a problem. You may be better off going to your local grocery store. The produce is the same and they are at least keeping it in refrigeration instead of hauling it all over town. The issue starts when they set up at market, don't sell, pack it up, and then set it up for another day. All that moving around opens up risks.
My advice is to educate yourself and ask questions. Get a good understanding of what is grown in your area. If someone is selling lemons and pineapples...probably didn't grow that themselves. If you see blueberries in this area...probably not growing those here. Also, ask questions. A lot of questions.
Where is their farm?
Are they growing everything themselves?
What food safety measures are they taking?
If it is important to you, are they growing things naturally or organically?
A farmer that is on the up and up will be happy to answer your questions. One that gets irritated with you, will do so for good reason. If someone is buying wholesale from other farms and they list farm names, Google them. If a farm is big enough to sell wholesale, they will probably have a website. Also, get to market early occasionally. Watch vendors as they set up.
What are they hauling their produce in?
If they are produce boxes like you see the produce guy at the store unpacking...guess what?
If they are unpacking bins, are they clean?
This can be a big point of contamination. The cantaloupe that killed thirty something people last year, came from a packing house that was using rusted, dirty equipment.
If you see a bag of onions like the ones at Sam's...you get the picture?
If you are buying meats or eggs at market, what are they feeding their animals?
Are they using antibiotics?
You may be supporting the local economy by buying these things, but you can get the same thing at the grocery store, and probably pay less for it.
Do they have package dates on their items?
How do you or they know how old it is if they don't?
Our health department inspects a lot of food vendors at our market, but once they make a run through for the day, they are gone. This is when it can get interesting. Sampling produce at a booth is a great option for buyers, but it also requires a permit.
Are they using clean utensils?
Are they washing their hands?
Are they keeping cut produce protected from flies?
Did I mention the washing their hands part?
Do they even have anything to wash their hands with at their booth?
Let's be clear, hand washing involves clean water, soap, and a clean way to dry them.
Most markets have a market organizer, and they may have a booth set up with information. Ask them questions.
What are they doing to insure food safety?
Do they have policies to protect consumers?
Are they inspecting farms?
Are they committed to the farmer or do they allow the produce companies to sell also?
Are they informed of the local health department regulations and do they take action after inspectors leave if they have a vendor violating those regulations?
Or, do they turn the other way?
This is not meant to scare you away from market.
Keep your eyes open and ask questions.
I am going to leave you with a few links to check out if you like.
Farmers Markets Thrive While Concerns Grow
Food Safety at the Fruit Stand
Farm to Table
Farmers Cultivate Food Safety
Frequent Food Safety Violations at Farmers Markets