It’s the time of year when roadside stands and farmers markets offer fresh picked produce. However, as with any food purchase, a little know-how can go a long way in keeping you and your family safe from foodborne illness, advises Sharon McDonald, food safety educator with Penn State Extension.
McDonald suggests following these tips, which were developed based on a Penn State study of farmers markets across the state.
1 Look around
Before buying anything, take a quick loop around the grounds. Look for overall cleanliness of vendor stands, uncovered food samples, hovering insects and soiled display areas.
2 Examine produce
Do not buy bruised or damaged produce because it is prone to bacterial contamination. The exception is “misshapen” produce, which is not damaged but is unusually shaped.
3 Ask questions
Speak with the vendor/farmer about how the food was grown; check for license and registrations. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and if you’re not comfortable with the answers, politely move on to the next vendor,” said McDonald.
4 Raw meat
If you plan to buy raw meats or other perishable items, make sure you have a cooler loaded with ice. Separate raw meats from other foods to avoid cross-contamination.
5 Ready-made foods
Pay attention to ready-to-eat foods such as sandwiches, cut fruits and samples. Cold foods should be cold, and hot foods should be hot. Make sure food handlers have a barrier between their hands and the food during handling.
6 Unpasteurized milk
While many markets offer unpasteurized dairy products — such as raw milk and cheeses — and unpasteurized juices, McDonald advises against consuming these products.
7 Store food
After bringing your purchases home, store foods either in the refrigerator or on the counter, depending on the item. Some fruits and vegetables, such as nectarines, peaches and tomatoes, can be stored on the counter until ripe and then refrigerated. Refrigerate eggs, dairy products and meats, posthaste.
8 Before you eat
Make sure to wash produce right before using it, and cook foods to the proper internal temperature, especially meats. Egg dishes and ground meats must be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit; poultry and fowl to 165 F; and steaks, chops and roasts to 145 F.
For more information for consumers on proper food handling and storage and safe cooking temperatures is available at extension.psu.edu/food-safety-and-processing.
(Farm and Dairy is featuring a series of “101” columns throughout the year to help young and beginning farmers master farm living. From finances to management to machinery repair and animal care, farmers do it all.)