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Stop Foodborne Illness

How to Navigate Farmer’s Market Season

The month of May means it’s nearly time for America’s favorite food lovers’ tradition: visiting your local farmers market. In addition to all the invigorating colors, exquisite aromas, strong flavors, and spirit of community, the farmers market is also an opportunity to develop one-on-one relationships with the people who produce your food!
Their passion for food can be quite inspiring.

Stop Foodborne Illness (http://www.stopfoodborneillness.org), a national public health organization whose mission is preventing illness and death from foodborne pathogens wants to remind you that no matter where you get your food – by supporting friendly local farmers or by shopping your neighborhood supermarket – food safety is always important.

Food that is fresh is a delicious treat! Organic and sustainable farming doesn’t use pesticides, chemicals, hormones and other additives, but it isn’t necessarily safer when it comes to foodborne illness – because everything is still grown in the dirt, and handled by humans. Pathogens such as E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella are found naturally in soil, as well as manure. Which basically means, everything needs to be washed.


Farmers and vendors selling food at the farmers market, as well as consumers/shoppers should understand the necessary steps to reducing the risk of illness from food. “It’s a good idea to know the signs of safe food handling when you visit each market vendor,” said Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of Stop Foodborne Illness. “Knowing your favorite farmers and vendors are using safe food practices, definitely boosts one’s confidence in their purchases!”


Most states have passed legislation regulating farmers’ markets. For example, in Illinois, most home-canned foods other than jams, jellies and preserves cannot be sold at the farmers market. Typically, farmers markets must be inspected by local health departments who make sure each market meets food safety standards, and most vendors, including those from so-called “cottage industries,” must be licensed to sell their products at farmers markets.

For a list of farmers markets in your area click here: www.ams.usda.gov/local-food-directories/farmersmarkets

If you’re interested in policies and regulations affecting farmers markets in your state, contact the department of health. For more information: www.stopfoodborneillness.org/awareness/food-safety-by-state/ 

The condition of the vendors’ booths and their products can tell you a lot about their safe food practices. Here are some things to look for:
  • Clean hands. Dirty fingernails or a filthy apron aren’t appetizing. For vendors serving food – are they wearing gloves, and is their hair covered?
  • A certification notice. Some vendors will display certificates that show they have been trained in food safety. These are good indicators that their foods are handled properly.
  • The carton is clean. When buying eggs, look to see if the carton is clean – inside and out, and make sure the eggs are clean and not cracked. Reused egg cartons are fine, if clean.
  • Cold foods are cold. Meats, cheeses and other dairy, and eggs should be kept cold. Salads and cold sandwiches should feel like they’re straight from the fridge.
  • Meat, poultry and fish are cooked to a safe temperature.  The only way to determine a safe temperature for meat, poultry or fish, is by using a cooking thermometer. If you’re not sure, ask.
  • Hot foods are hot. The “Danger Zone” for food (where bacteria multiply quickly) is between 40°F and 140°F. Cooked foods like soups and burgers should be piping hot.
  • Samples are being safely handled. Vendors using gloves, tongs, tissues, or other utensils are doing it right! (They shouldn’t be using bare hands.) Are knives, serving utensils, dishes, and service surfaces kept clean?  If not, take a pass on these foods.
  • Ciders, juices, and dairy products are pasteurized. Since unpasteurized foods are serious sources of foodborne pathogens, shoppers should ask when products, including the samples, are not clearly labeled.
On hot days …
  • Be mindful of jars open for sampling —sauces, salsas, jams, pickles and so on —they should not be out for more than two hours at outside temperature. One hour, if it’s over 90°F. Many markets have started offering hand-washing stations with hand sanitizer. We encourage you to use them.
  • If you’re purchasing perishables like dairy, eggs, or meat bring a cooler or insulated bag with ice to the market, so your newly purchased products can be kept cold for the ride home in the hot car.
  • Make the farmers market your final stop before heading home. Your fresh veggies and fruit, and other perishable foods, won’t have to sit long in a hot car, and will make it to the refrigerator that much more quickly.

This Halloween, Don’t Get Sick and Follow These Healthy Eating Tips

Halloween is right around the corner. Pick up those finishing touch decorations, plan parties, finalize costumes and most importantly, brush up on proper food safety practices to prevent foodborne illness this year.
Stop Foodborne Illness , a national, nonprofit, public health organization dedicated to preventing illness and death from foodborne pathogens, wants people to be aware of the dangers that can arise from food during the Halloween season. Educating yourself and your children is the easiest way to reduce the risk this holiday season. Whether you are going trick-or-treating or hosting a Halloween party, make sure you leave the scares to the dressed-up ghouls and goblins.

Trick-or-treating is a fun activity, but it can potentially be a serious health hazard. Before heading out with the kids or sending them off on their own, remind them how important it is to be aware of the treats they are receiving. Check out Stop’s quick tips for practicing easy food safety while trick-or-treating:

  • Avoid homemade goodies from people you don’t know. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends avoiding eating homemade treats made by strangers since there is no way to ensure the person preparing them followed proper food safety procedure. Although everyone loves a good brownie or caramel apple, the best way to stay safe is to stay away.
  • Fight the snacking urge. Make sure everyone’s had a light meal or snack before hitting the neighborhood streets. It is always tempting to enjoy a piece—or two— of the sweet haul while walking to the next house, but Stop urges trick-or-treaters to wait until they return home and can check that all treats are properly wrapped before eating.
  • Wash your hands. Proper handwashing is always important in preventing the spread of dangerous pathogens but is even more important during this holiday. Between trick-or-treating and school Halloween parties, a lot of packaged candy passes from different hands, increasing the chances of contracting foodborne illness. Make sure kids are washing their hands before digging into their Halloween candy.

Hosting a Halloween party for friends and family? Let the ghosts in but say boo to bacteria. Stop Foodborne Illness has a few guidelines for entertaining your guests for a fun and safe night.

  • Beware of spooky cider! Unpasteurized juice or cider can contain harmful bacteria such as Salmonella . To stay safe, always serve pasteurized products at your parties. Any dish or drink with fresh fruit—or veggies—must be thoroughly washed before being served.
  • Prevent the spread of bacteria by keeping all perishable foods chilled until serving time. Bacteria creeps up when foods sit out too long. Don’t leave goodies—like finger sandwiches, cheese platters, fruit, salads, cold pasta dishes, Jell-O treats, store bought deli trays and cream pies or cakes with whipped-cream and cream-cheese frostings—out of the fridge for more than two hours (1 hour in temperatures above 90°F).
  • Plan safe entertainment. Bobbing for apples is a classic Halloween game but having multiple people touching the same apples over and over again can present significant food safety risks. Reduce the number of bacteria that might be present by thoroughly rinsing apples under cool running water and using a produce brush to remove surface dirt. Or, give the traditional game a modern update : Cut out “apples” from red construction paper and write activities for kid—or funny dares for an older crowd—on each one. Place a paper clip on each apple and put them in a large basket. Tie a magnet to a string and let guests take turns “bobbing” with their magnet.

About Stop Foodborne Illness

Stop Foodborne Illness is a national nonprofit, public health organization dedicated to preventing illness and death from foodborne pathogens by advocating for sound public policies, building public awareness and assisting those impacted by foodborne illness. For more food safety tips please visit www.Stopfoodborneillness.org/awareness/. If you think you have been sickened from food , contact your local health professional. You may subscribe to receive Stop Foodborne Illness e-Alerts and eNews here: www.Stopfoodborneillness.org/take-action/sign-up-for-e-alerts/.

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