It’s finally that time of year. Nope, not sandal season. We’re talking farmers market season. That special time when you and your loved ones can walk outside without a winter coat, perusing those beautiful markets full of local fruits and veggies ripe for the picking.
But while you’re busy drooling over those bunches of crisp asparagus, juicy strawberries and farm-fresh eggs, don’t forget that just because the food before you was trucked over from a local farm doesn’t mean you can forget about food safety.
Food shopping outside in the spring is the most glorious way to buy your groceries. But doing so leaves those fruits and vegetables exposed to such contaminates as dirt, bugs and pollutants, according to Home Food Safety. There’s also often little access to water to wash your hands and produce, which is sitting outside without refrigeration.
Pay attention to your surroundings. Check out the foods stands’ cleanliness. This includes gloves and utensils for food handling, covered garbage cans, and coolers for perishables and clean bags. And just to give you peace of mind, most farmers markets have their own food safety rules that vendors must comply with.
If you’re using reusable grocery bags, we applaud you. But make sure you keep raw meat in a separate bag from produce and breads, says Home Food Safety.
It’s also crucial to wash your reusable bags in a washing machine or with hot, soapy water. Be sure to clean areas in your home where you’ve put your totes, like a kitchen counter; store bags in a clean, dry place; and don’t leave them in your trunk.
You know what would ruin a day at the farmers market? Getting a foodborne illness after bringing those farm-fresh foods home. Here's how to handle all the different foods you may be purchasing:
Make sure to wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce, according to FoodSafety.gov.
Wash all produce before eating, cutting or cooking, even if you have to peel it first.
Refrigerate cut or peeled fruits and vegetables within two hours, says Home Food Safety.
Only buy milk if you can confirm that it has been pasteurized. Raw milk can harbor Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria, says FoodSafety.gov.
Pregnant women, older adults, young children and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk for illness caused by Listeria. If you’re buying soft cheeses — like feta, brie, blue-veined cheeses, queso blanco, queso fresco and panela — check the label to make sure it's made from pasteurized or treated milk.
Eggs and meat
Eggs should be chilled at 45°F. Meat should be kept in closed coolers with lots of ice.
Perishables must be refrigerated within two hours (one hour if it’s over 90°F). Bring an insulated bag or cooler with you to bring meat home, recommends Home Food Safety.