How Safe Is Farmers’ Market Food?

smartie loves the range of artisan offerings at the farmers' market: the smoked mozzarella, hand-churned butter, organic eggs, homemade yogurts, breads, cakes, grass-fed meats, fresh fish. But smartie says that plenty of people "have said they wouldn't buy those goods at [the farmers'] market because there's no way of knowing if the containers are sterilized or who checks their kitchens and processes. One friend said she would be scared to eat the yogurt and would rather buy it at the supermarket."

Is this fear rational? scubadoo97 puts it in perspective: "What's to say Aunt Alice's kitchen was sanitary before she made that side dish for Thanksgiving? I'd trust someone selling at a market before that coworker at a pot luck dinner any day but then I'd eat that too."

mcf adds that foods made in bulk by big companies aren't any less prone to health concerns. "So your friend thinks food manufacturing plants are limited to no rodent hairs or bug parts in their products and have no rats, roaches ... running around?" mcf says. "Guess again."

But if you're nervous, ask for more information—you might be pleasantly surprised. "Different farmer's markets have different rules about who can sell and what conditions their food must be produced under so for people who are nervous but would like to try those things it is worth it to contact the organization that sponsors the [market] and see what their rules are," says escondido123. "I just checked the rules at mine and it says 'all unfarmed edible items ... must be made in commercial kitchens approved by the County' so that makes me comfortable. I tend not to worry about those kind of things however—never had any kind of food poisoning in more than 60 years."

And farmers' markets certainly aren't exempt from regulations and inspections. jeanmarieok, a vendor at one, says that "[m]y latest inspection is on file with the market, and I keep a copy with me. People ask me all the time, some discreetly, some directly, about whether I am inspected. It took a lot of work to get inspected and approved, and I am happy to share that information."

Even federal authorities have given jeanmarieok the once-over. "I have been inspected by Dept of Agriculture staff while at the market, too," jeanmarieok says. "Unscheduled, random inspections. She checked the temperature of my cold items, inspected my coolers, watched me hand out samples, checked the temp of the water in my portable hand sinks, etc. I think most states have that same kind of oversight. If you have any questions at all about your market, you should just ask."

Discuss: Fear of green market foods - homemade sold at the market

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