Alabama instructs farmers market vendors on food safety

06/04/2013 09:35:00 AM
Vicky Boyd

Vicky BoydConsider using disposable utensils and plates when sampling at farmers markets.Farmers markets are growing like weeds, but they're not immune to foodborne illness outbreaks.

After all, customers tend to touch the produce before they buy it.

As a result, Alabama Extension has begun conducting modified good agricultural practices, or GAP training, for growers selling at the state's farmers markets, according to a news release.

Most large retailers already require growers from whom they buy to comply with GAP.

The program, called "Enhancing the Safety of Local Produce," is not as comprehensive as GAP. But farmers markets in Alabama are currently not government by either state or federal food handling regulations.

“We think these regulations are coming sooner or later, much as they have with restaurants,” Extension food safety agent Angela Treadaway said in the release. “Right now, though, we are concentrating our efforts on alerting growers to the risk of foodborne illness and the steps they can take to prevent outbreaks.”

The training identifies common practices, such as using manure or allowing animals—including dogs—in your fields, that might contribute to a food safety breach.

Using an old pocket knife to cut fruit or cutting on unsanitized surfaces also are potential sources of foodborne pathogens.

Instead, Extension food safety specialists encourage use of disposable utensils and plates.

Another tip is separating display produce from the products actually sold. Customers tend to handle produce, and you don't now where their hands have been before.

Let them touch the display, but pull and sell from the items set out of reach.

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