Local Farmers’ Markets, Not as Safe as You Think

By Suzanne Osborne

Consumers are increasingly concerned with where their food is produced. Fear of industrial farming, a desire to support the local economy, and environmental considerations have fuelled a resurgence in the direct-to-consumer sale of food products. As of 2020, the USDA’s National Farmers’ Market Directory includes 8,756 registered farmers’ markets.

The Farmers’ Market: Perceptions

Consumers, vendors, and farmers’ market managers have an overwhelmingly positive perception of the food sold at farmers’ markets. They believe the food is of higher quality, fresher, more traceable, and safer than food purchased at retail. Only 2-6% of consumers expressed any concern about bacterial contamination.

The Farmers’ Market: Reality

Numerous food borne outbreaks have already been traced back to farmers’ markets. Research on farmers’ market produce finds that bacterial counts are either similar to, or higher than retail food. A study in Pennsylvania found a higher prevalence of E. coli and Listeria on leafy green produce at farmers’ markets compared to retail. Whole chickens purchased at farmers’ market had higher counts of Salmonella and Campylobacter (28%) compared to those purchased at supermarkets (8%). Our perception that farmers’ market products are safer than retail does not match reality: direct-to-consumer food sales pose safety risks to consumers.

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