Market managers can make farmers markets safer

CN-DM-MR-1-Market managers 1by Sanne Kure-Jensen

“We’re riding the wave of the local food movement,” said Bevan Linsley, Farmers Market manager and conference organizer. This conference focused on tools market managers could use to improve food safety for a long and prosperous season.

Janet Coit, RI DEM director and Ken Ayars, RI Division of Agriculture chief offered opening remarks at the Farmers Market Manager Conference, held at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) headquarters In Providence, RI.

Coit shared her excitement at Rhode Island having more than 50 farmers markets this past summer. As farmers increase local production, their customers help grow the local economy and protect farmland and open space.

Ayars told participants that when farmers markets include prepared or baked goods, the markets require Special Food Events permits and vendors need a food business license pursuant to Rhode Island Department of Health rules. Different rules and regulations apply than those of farmers markets selling only raw produce. Individually wrapped baked goods must be labeled with their ingredients (in order of volume), nutritional content and allergy warnings (nuts, dairy, etc.) Any farmers market vendor selling items other than produce (whole, uncut) needs a license. Market managers are responsible to tell the state who will be at their markets. It will be up to the state to oversee their licenses and verify their compliance.

Food Safety

Lori Pivarnik, Ph.D. URI’s Food Safety/Research Nutrition and Food Science coordinator, spoke on managing food safety at farmers markets. More people are eating fresh produce amid growing nutritional awareness. Sadly, there is also an increase in the number of food-borne illness outbreaks. Some problems are caused by improper consumer handling or cross-contamination. Risks can be vastly reduced through careful growing, harvest, processing and selling practices.

Large operations have more hands touching products and outbreaks have greater impacts. However, record keeping may be easier for small operations since they have more control with less to track than larger farm operations.

Pivarnik recommended farmers always think about what is going on uphill of your fields, water source or processing facility. This is one of the best ways to protect against food contamination.

Microbial contaminants can come from wild animal feces, livestock manures or carcasses, people, air, plants and contaminated water. Processing lines should be cleaned and sanitized between produce classes.
Variable conditions can trigger growth of pathogens to dangerous levels. Some contaminants can lay dormant for as long as 250 days in soils threatening contamination and illness to people.

Reduce Risks

At the Farm — Farm practices focused on prevention can vastly reduce the risks of food contamination. Pivarnik recommended farmers seek GAP training and certification. On-farm programs monitor and protect water quality, manure composting and careful timing of spreading composted manures for soils fertility. Careful tool cleaning and sanitizing, hand washing, good harvesting and processing practices and proper temperature control as appropriate after harvest can significantly improve food safety. More buyers and states require ‘Traceback’ systems.

At the Market — Pivarnik encourages market managers to take these minimal precautions at their markets:
• Be sure all vendors have access to ice made from potable water; clean and sanitize icemakers routinely.
• Mist produce with spray bottles of potable water to keep them cool.
• Ensure hand-washing station available. A dedicated coffee urn can be used for hot water.
• Keep boxes or bins of food off the ground.
• Do not allow pets or petting zoos at or near farmers markets.
• Ask vendors to have dedicated people handling money, raw meats or produce. If not, they should use gloves to avoid cross-contamination with produce or ready-to-eat foods. Hand sanitizers are not nearly as effective as washing hands properly. Using individual sheets of waxed paper or tongs are best for food handling.
• Ask vendors not to sell produce with many bruises (seconds). This can reduce customers’ risk of food-borne illness.
• Be sure coolers with ice have drains so foods do not float in liquids.

Market Managers should include recommended practices, sanitation guidelines and state regulations in their vendor packets. Consumers will benefit from well-trained vendors and farmers.

Food Safety Manager Certification and Value Added Foods

Rhode Island offers this 15-hour course, exam and certification for anyone who will be preparing potentially hazardous foods. This license must be renewed every three years by taking a recertification class. All processed foods sold at farmers markets must be prepared in licensed kitchens. Check with local health departments for similar offerings in other states.

To learn more about food safety, email Lori Pivarnik at pivarnik@uri.edu or call 401-874-2972, or email Catherine Payne Feeney at catherine.payne-feeney@health.ri.gov or call 401-222-2749.

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