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Food safety and selection at the farmers market

June 21, 2009
By Roseann Doran, For The Leder-Herald

Farmers markets offer a variety of fresh, locally-produced fruits, vegetables, bakery and meat products.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates more than 1,000,000 people visit a farmers market weekly.

More than 20,000 farmers use farmers markets to sell to consumers. The average supermarket produce travels from 1,500 to 2,00 miles to its destination, compared to 50 miles for farmers market produce

Get the most from your local Farmers' Market with the following information.

Food safety

Go directly home from the market.

Avoid side trips.

Foods will decline in quality and perishable foods like meats and eggs can pose food safety problems if left sitting in your car.

Additional tips for handling food for best safety and quality include:

Different fruits and vegetables require different temperature and humidity levels for proper storage.

Some foods that taste best stored at room temperature include: bananas, melons, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and winter squashes. Store them in a clean, dry, well-ventilated place, away from direct sunlight and away from areas where meat is prepared.

Some produce can be ripened on the counter and then stored in the refrigerator. Examples include: avocados, kiwifruit, nectarines, peaches, pears and plums.

Avoid placing produce in a sealed plastic bag on your countertop.

This slows ripening and may increase off-odors and decay from the accumulation of carbon dioxide and depletion of oxygen inside the bag.

Most other fresh fruits and vegetables keep best stored in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40 degrees or below.

Use your refrigerator crisper drawer for whole produce. Store fruits in a separate refrigerator crisper drawer from vegetables. Fruits give off ethylene gas which can shorten the storage life of vegetables. Some vegetables give off odors that can be absorbed by fruits and affect their quality.

Refrigerate fruits and vegetables in perforated plastic bags to help maintain moisture yet provide air flow.

Unperforated plastic bags can lead to the growth of mold or bacteria. If you don't have access to commercial, food-grade, perforated bags, use a sharp object to make several small holes in a food-grade plastic bag (about 20 holes per medium-size bag).

If fruits and vegetables are placed on refrigerator shelves, store meats on pans or plates below the produce to prevent meat juices-which may contain harmful bacteria-from dripping on them.

Wash hands before working with produce.

Wash produce thoroughly. Wash produce before you use it, not when you bring it home. Fresh produce has a natural protective coating that helps keep in moisture and freshness. Washing produce before storage causes it to spoil faster. Remove and discard outer leaves. Rinse under clean, running water just before preparing or eating.

Don't use soap or detergent as it can get into produce and make you sick. Rub briskly-scrubbing with a clean brush or hands-to clean the surface. Dry with a clean cloth or paper towel.

Rinse produce even when the peel is removed-such as for melons and citrus fruits! Bacteria on the outside of produce can be transferred to the inside when produce is cut or peeled. Once you have cut through the protective skin of fruits and vegetables, bacteria can enter. Refrigerate cut or peeled fruits and vegetables within two hours.

Friendly advice

Farmers markets are great places to shop and to get some exercise.

Enjoy walking around the market. Have fun looking at all the produce and goodies. Got kids or grandkids? Take them along.

On warm days, the quality of unrefrigerated fruits and vegetables can decline from morning to afternoon. However, you might get a great deal at the end of the day.

Aim to buy foods you'll eat now when they are fresh. Select an amount you can use within a short time, especially, if you won't need it right away.

For a schedule of farmers' markets in Fulton and Montgomery Counties, contact Cornell Cooperative Extension 762-3909.

Source: The Garden Grocery: Amy Peterson, MS, RD and Alice Henneman, MS, RD, Food Safety & Selection at the Farmers' Market, , University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.



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