Having an open conversation with the Farmers Market farmer is the path to peace of mind. The farmer knows that people are concerned about salmonella or contamination. Erin Barnett of LocalHarvest, an online national directory of farms, Farmers Markets and related businesses, suggests a straightforward and respectful approach.
Saying to the farmer, “Hey, I’m feeling concerned about the safety of fresh produce given everything I hear about jalapenos this summer. What can you tell me about why your food is safe?” will start the discussion without putting anyone on the defensive, Barnett said.
Where’s Your Farm?
In many cases the Food and Drug Administration has determined just where the contamination occurred. If a crop of jalapenos was contaminated in Mexico, and the Farmers Market is in Central California, you know that locally-grown peppers haven’t come anywhere near the bacteria causing the national outbreak.
In this most recent outbreak, the FDA has stated that jalapenos and Serrano peppers grown in the United States are not associated with the most recent outbreak of salmonella Saintpaul. According to Barnett, even if it were in the U.S., it’s important to keep in mind that a miniscule percentage of the peppers eaten in this country are to blame for the outbreak.
Barnett advises shoppers not to confuse certified Farmers Markets, where produce must be locally grown, with uncertified markets. Look for red flags that can alert you that the fruits and veggies aren’t local. If you see produce that’s out of season in your area, or never grown in your area — think pineapple in the continental U.S. — it’s not local and the merchant won’t be able to tell you any more about how it was grown than the supermarket grocer or someone at a fast food restaurant.
What’s Your Name?
When you get to know the people who grow the food you eat, you can make informed, confident decisions about the produce they bring each week. Pam Estrada, a manager at Family Farm Fresh, a group of local small farmers who work together to supply their produce directly to the consumer, suggests even asking for a visit to the farm to see how things are done.
Ask about how their produce is grown, the farm’s fertility practices, Barnett said, find out about how the farm deals with pests and whether there are animals on the farm.
All farms have a set of practices that serve to avoid contamination, Barnett said. It’s reasonable for consumers to be concerned for the safety of their food and the farmer wants the consumer to feel good about the veggies that come off his or her farm.
How Big is Your Farm?
At the same time, small family farms that tend to sell at Farmers Markets are not the type of operations that have been found to produce dangerous foods, Barnett said. Estrada said the small acreage of a Farmers Market farm can help the farmer to detect and correct any problems.
And, as farmer-owners, “they are serious about cleanliness,” Estrada said.
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