Summertime means farmers’ market visits

Over the next couple of months your local farmers’ market will be brimming with delicious tasting fresh fruits and vegetables!

Nothing says summer like biting into a freshly picked peach or tomato with juices running down your chin.

The great part about the market is that you get the chance to talk with the farmer. They can answer questions you may have about how the food was grown, when it was picked and even the best way to store the product when you get it home. Add to this the fact that you are supporting the local economy and getting food at its nutritional peak, what’s not to like!

If you want the most choices and the most beautiful looking fruits and vegetables, then be sure to arrive early. If you want a deal, then wait till later in the day when prices may be reduced but realize you might not get the “prettiest” tomato.

This would be the one time you want to go shopping without a list. When you arrive browse the different vendors to see what is available, what looks good or what new vegetable you might want to try and then plan your meals around these items. If you’re not sure about something, then ask how it might be prepared.

Farmers’ markets, like other food establishments, are required to adhere to food safety guidelines when handling food and offering food samples. As consumers though, it is our job to keep foods safe once purchased. Be sure to bring your own bags. The goal is to prevent cross contamination between raw foods such as meats and foods that you may not be cooking before consuming. Have bags specifically designated for fresh produce, meat, baked goods and extra ones for any other items you are purchasing.

As a reminder, be sure to wash or clean bags between visits. Don’t leave empty bags in the car where warm temperatures will support the growth of any bacteria that might be present.

The best strategy is to go directly home when you are done at the market, but if not, be sure to have a cooler packed with ice or freezer gel packs to store your purchases.

Meats, dairy foods, eggs, cut produce and baked goods with dairy based frostings need to be kept at 40 degrees or lower for safety. Again, have separate coolers to prevent cross contamination of raw meats with other foods.

Once you have your foods home, store them properly for quality and safety. Obviously, meats, eggs, dairy foods and cut produce need to be refrigerated immediately.

For other fruits and vegetables storage may vary. In general store green vegetables in the bottom crisper drawer for vegetables and strawberries, other berries, ripe melon and grapes in the crisper drawer for fruit.

Tomatoes, peaches and nectarines can be ripened on the counter and then refrigerated.

Garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squashes and onions should be stored at room temperature.

Melons can also be kept on the counter but should be refrigerated after two days.

Before and after preparing fresh produce, wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap. Be sure all cutting boards and utensil that will be used in preparation have been properly cleaned as well. The recommended method of washing fruits and vegetables is under cool running water just before you are going to eat, cut or cook them.

All produce should be washed even if you don’t plan to eat the peel. Any bacteria present on the outside can be transferred to the inside when you cut or peel. Once you cut or peel fruits or vegetables, they should be refrigerated within two hours of preparation.

Some special considerations when washing produce:

≤ Salad greens: Be sure to pull apart heads or greens to get into the crevices, rinsing several times to remove dirt particles and other contaminants.

≤ Apples, pear and peaches: Fruits with stems can trap dirt and bacteria more easily, so wash and rub under cool water especially around the stem end.

≤ Melons: Wash the rind before cutting and use a brush or cloth to loosen bacteria and dirt.

≤ Carrots: Always rinse before preparing, whether you are peeling or not.

≤ Mushrooms: Because mushrooms are delicate, wipe them down with a clean cloth or rinse under a gentle stream of water to clean and loosen dirt from the gills surrounding their stems. Wipe dry before cooking or serving.

Finally, sit back, relax and savor those wonderful flavors of fresh corn on the cob, a garden salad with ripe tomatoes and ice cream topped with fresh berries — remember winter is just around the corner!

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Sharon McDonald is a senior extension educator/food safety specialist with Penn State Extension.

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