How lucky can a girl get? While some people get tired of traveling, I enjoy work trips to new cities, maybe it is the change from small town/rural life. Usually there is time to explore the town and sample local fare. I recently had the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful city of Charleston, S.C.
Granted, I had the tourist perspective – staying in the historic district, taking a horse drawn carriage ride, walking along the harbor, and dining on some great seafood. Farmer’s market season is in swing and there was a huge market (at least when compared to scale of most Iowa towns) in Marion park. The fresh strawberries looked delicious – the raw milk less tempting. Vendors were promoting the benefits of raw milk – while I am sure in their minds these were true, I am concerned about the risks inherent in drinking milk that has not been pasteurized. The quick heat treatment kills the bacteria that can cause illness. There are good bacteria of course – am sure you have seen the commercials about pro-biotics in some new yogurt products. But many states don’t allow the sale of raw milk because the science shows it is not safe. South Carolina obviously is one of several states that allow this product to be sold. Me, I wasn’t interested.
It is the season here in the Midwest for fresh produce and other goodies from Farmer’s Markets. Maybe some of you in warmer climates enjoy these year round – but for us in cold country, the months between June and August are prime time for Farmer’s Market. More and more, people enjoy these as a way to try unique produce varieties or sample a truly fresh head of lettuce. To be sure you are experiencing a locally grown product, check the rules at the Farmer’s Market you attend – some do allow vendors to sell products purchased from wholesalers while others require products to be home grown. It is a decision each market makes.
Farmer’s Markets are popular – each year they increase in number and the products offered. Some even offer take-home meals (of course food is prepared in a licensed kitchen and the appropriate vendor permits are in place) in addition to fresh produce and baked goods. You see, it gets pretty complicated when sorting through the food safety regulations. While there are few regs regarding sale of fresh unprocessed produce, certainly we have had some illnesses from these foods – from tomatoes last year and lettuce in the past. What happens is these foods are grown in the soil (which is a reservoir for some harmful bacteria); irrigated or washed with contaminated water; exposed to pathogens from animals or pets; and/or handled improperly by humans. And because there is often not a kill step by cooking, we eat these products (with high levels of bacteria or viruses) and may become sick. While we can’t really control for the birds flying overhead, there are action steps we should expect from the producer (aka Good Agricultural Practices or GAPs) and action steps we should take.
This doesn’t mean we have to cook our lettuce (or as someone asked me – wash it in vodka) but it does mean we become alert consumers. Assess general cleanliness of the farmer vendor’s food stand and does the product look like it has been cleaned? Check that there ice chests to keep product cool during hot summer months (remember bacteria grows very quickly between 70° F and 135° F and when there is moisture). Product quality stays higher if it is kept cook – so really this is a win-win situation. Does the producer package items or do all the patrons have the opportunity to paw through – and spread any germs (Norovirus comes to mind) from their hands to the food?
Enjoy the Farmer Market experience and the unique varieties of produce offered – but wash your hands and wash the product before eating.