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K-State Research and Extension News

Shop safe at farmers’ markets

A food safety specialist explains considerations for consumers.

farmers marketsPhoto and caption available

Released: June 14, 2016

OLATHE, Kan. – Farmers’ markets offer a food shopping option for consumers and allow them to support the local economy and local farmers. But, when shopping at farmers’ markets, it’s important that consumers follow certain safety precautions and ask the right questions to find out more about the foods.

A lot of food safety precautions that consumers take with foods purchased at the farmers’ market are common to the precautions taken with foods bought at the grocery store.

“Make sure the produce is clean, that it looks fresh, that it’s a nice intact piece of produce,” said Londa Nwadike, a food safety extension specialist with Kansas State University and the University of Missouri. “If you’re buying cut or peeled produce, make sure that it’s surrounded by ice or is being kept cold.”

When looking at meats, eggs and cheese to purchase, it’s important to ensure that the products are either in a cooler or on ice, Nwadike said. These products need to be kept cold to maintain their freshness. Another item to study carefully is milk.

“If you’re buying milk at a farmers’ market, it is a regulatory requirement that the milk sold at the farmers market has to be pasteurized,” Nwadike said. “Check with the vendor and ask if it’s pasteurized, just to be sure. Pasteurized is much safer.”

“You can always ask the vendors about their food safety practices; you can always ask them how they make it and how they raise it,” she added. “Just find out more from them about what they’re doing, and that can give you some information about safety (of the product).”

When it comes to determining the food’s origin, the best way to find out is by communicating with the farmer. Ask questions such as how the farmer raised it and what safety precautions he or she took, which can give consumers a better idea of the potential risk of foodborne illness, she said.

“There’s a number of different foodborne illnesses that could be connected with unsafe produce. Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria are all different organisms that have been associated in the past with produce,” Nwadike said. “The entire chain just needs to make sure to pay attention to food safety from the farmer all the way to the consumer.”

Understanding marketing terms

Some terms used to describe food, such as “natural” and “organic,” are regulated by governing agencies, Nwadike said. However, there are terms that are not regulated, and it’s important to keep an eye out for terms on food labels that could be misleading.

“Some farmers’ markets might have their own requirements for terms that can be used or can’t be used (for marketing),” she said. “I hear stories that farmers’ markets won’t allow people to use the term ‘organic’ unless it’s certified organic. ‘Organic’ is a term with a federal definition, and you have to meet requirements if you’re going to say that this product is ‘organic.’”

Most other terms do not have a regulated government definition, so asking the farmer what different terms mean can leave consumers better informed.

“‘Natural’ is one term that has a regulated definition for meat products, but there is no regulated definition for ‘natural’ for anything other than meat products,” Nwadike said. “If a farmer is using a particular term on the label, such as ‘healthy’ or even ‘local,’ you can ask the farmer to find out more information. There are varying definitions out there for local foods. Always checking with the farmer is the best way to know for sure what a lot of those terms might mean.”

Buying food online

With the popularity of online shopping in recent years comes yet another new way to order food. Sites such as Amazon have started delivering produce, and other companies deliver boxed meals right to the consumer’s door. With the ability to get food delivered at home opens up even more safety concerns.

“If consumers are going to be buying foods online, it would be a good idea to find out more about that company and make sure that the company is following regulations,” Nwadike said. “One important thing for consumers to think about if they’re buying foods online, if it’s getting shipped to your home and it’s coming through the mail, you want to make sure that you’re checking the package carefully and that it’s intact.”

A publication revised in January 2016 is available through the K-State Research and Extension Bookstore about Kansas farmers’ market regulations and best practices. The publication is also available at local extension offices throughout the state. 


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by:
James Schmidt
K-State Research and Extension

For more information:
Londa Nwadike – lnwadike@k-state.edu or 913-307-7391