The Importance of Food Safety
Food Safety is the strict practices of when handling, preparing, and storing food to prevent foodborne illnesses. The CDC estimates that 48 million Americans get sick each year from a foodborne illness. The most common pathogenic bacteria that consumers come in contact with includes:
- Shiga Toxin- producing E. Coli– STEC
- Salmonella spp.
- C. Jejuni.
Typically these pathogens enter the human body when we eat undercooked proteins, unwashed produce, or drinking contaminated water. This can easily be avoided by cooking proteins at the recommended degree of doneness, washing produce before eating, and testing or checking with your city about water contaminants.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was passed in 2011 to establish preventative food safety issues. This act pushed for mandatory federal food safety standards for produce across the US. This directed growers to follow the new standards rather than voluntarily following guidelines. There are seven rules that growers must follow in order to meet the new federal standard and sell their products to consumers.
Exemptions to the Rules
There are a few FSMA rules that small growers can bypass:
- Food that that is rarely consumed raw such as beans, some leafy greens, root crops, or grains
- The produce is for on farm consumption
- The average sales in a 3-year period do not exceed $500,000 or $250,00 for very small businesses
- Produce that receives commercial processing in which it reduces the presence of microorganisms
- Qualified Exemptions to farm sales that meet qualified end users such as a direct consumer or a food establishment within 275 miles from the farm.
Those with qualified exemptions are given modified requirements they must follow.
- Label their product with the name and business address of the farm the product was grown or disclose that information at the point of purchase
- Keep thorough records and documentation of their sales.
What Does This Mean for Farmers’ Markets?
Farmers’ markets are places where small growers can showcase their produce directly to consumers allowing them to build a sense of community. It is like a bridge that connects two worlds supplying each other education, support, and accessibility to amazing food. With the increase in popularity in buying from local vendors, farmers’ markets are seeing new and loyal buyers.
Most, if not all, these markets are held out in the open making a great place for people to gather under the pleasant sun or cooling breeze depending on the season. Certified Farmers’ markets are regularly inspected for food hygiene but bacterial pathogen checks are often overlooked due to the FSMA exemptions. Between 1994-2016 there were only 10 foodborne illness outbreaks, a majority of them being Salmonella and E. coli. Out of those 10, two were traced back from originating at farmers markets (Young. 2017).
However, these markets still practice safety measures by all means to continue to provide to consumers. Preventative measures include:
- Handwashing or sanitation stations
- Food Safety Training
- Setting up booths in U shapes to prevent the least amount of cross contamination
- Keeping up to health code and regulations
What to Take From This
Just like buying from a grocery store, it is very important that we as consumers know that there may be a risk of contracting a foodborne illness from the produce and proteins we eat. We constantly hear on the news about a new foodborne outbreak, the most recent being E.coli in romaine lettuce. Whether we buy our favorite foods from your farmers’ market on the weekend or getting them from the grocery store down the block, we must always remember to cook our meat and wash our produce thoroughly. No one wants to get sick so stay safe and keep eating good when you can!
(Estimates of Foodborne Illnesses in the United States, 2018)
(Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), n.d.)
(FSMA Final Rule Produce Safety, n.d.)
Young, I., Thaivalappil, A., Reimer, D., & Greig, J. (2017). Food safety at farmers’ markets: A knowledge synthesis of published research. Journal of Food Protection, 80(12), 2033-2047. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy.library.cpp.edu/10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-17-193