The first weekend of my local farmers market has come and gone, and my family has been enjoying my market purchases all week. I have a seasonal bouquet of asters gracing my office, right next to the big overstuffed chair that the boys flop on after they get home from school to chat for a minute or two before they go off and do their thing. We enjoyed locally-raised, grass-fed steak and sauteed mushrooms earlier this week, this morning’s scrambled eggs came from free-range chickens, rhubarb will be preserved tomorrow, and there’s a jar of artisan-made strawberry-balsamic preserves waiting to be paired with the merlot-washed cheese I purchased. Life is full of sunshine.
To make sure that the bounty of the season continues to be enjoyed as it was intended to be, NSF International pulled together these food safety tips for the farmers market this summer season.
1. Always wash your produce, even if you’re buying local, organic or pesticide-free produce. Research has shown washing with water to be just as effective as using veggie washes, vinegar solutions and detergents. Produce with firm skin like cantaloupes should be cleaned using a scrub brush. Soft-skinned produce should be rinsed under running water and patted dry with a clean paper towel. Even produce that will be eventually peeled such as bananas or cantaloupes should be washed, as bacteria on the surface can easily be transferred to the edible sections when cut.
2. Inspect your food before buying it. Make sure that the produce you purchase is not bruised or damaged. Make sure eggs are properly chilled, clean and not cracked.
3. Make sure meat is kept cold in closed, iced coolers. Bring a cooler or insulated bag to keep your meat cold and separate from other fresh produce. You do not want juices from raw meat (which may contain harmful bacteria) to contaminate your other items.
4. When you get home from the farmers market, make sure to store your food items properly. Produce stored in the refrigerator should not be stored near or under raw meat, seafood, poultry or eggs, while produce stored at room temperature should be kept away from non-food items like household chemicals.
5. Check the temperature in your refrigerator, as one in four (25 percent) household refrigerators is too warm. Fresh meats and dairy products along with perishable fruits and vegetables need to be stored below 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
6. Remember to always wash your hands and use separate cutting boards for produce and raw meat.
These are great tips, but I'm going to respectfully disagree slightly with the a part of the second one. Sometimes, the farmers market is a great place buy bruised produce at a reduced price — especially fruits to turn into jams or preserves. Bruised is not the same as spoiled. You can get some great deals on imperfect produce at a farmers market, and our food culture’s insistence that all produce look like it belongs in a photo spread leads to a lot of unnecessary food waste.
I do advise you to inspect your produce, but differentiate between when bruised means blemished and when it means that spoilage has set in. Do not buy spoiled food, but feel free to buy blemished food and turn it into small-batch strawberry jam or easy slow-cooker applesauce.