Food Safety Issues Remain High at Farmers Markets

According to a University of Maryland study released this week, food bought at a farmers market is just as likely to be contaminated as food bought in a supermarket. Farmers markets have a reputation for safe, fresh food. The emphasis placed on by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on local consumption has helped spur the development of farmers markets across the country, as consumers seek more and more to buy food from local producers.

However, a recent investigation into Washington D.C. farmers markets has revealed that small does not necessarily equal safe. Chicken sold at a Vermont Avenue farmers market, for example, found campylobacter, an opportunistic bacterium that can cause a variety of gastrointestinal complications in humans. All together, five out of seven local markets examined by the University of Maryland researchers tested positive for campylobacter, salmonella, or both.

One of the problems, however, is that many consumers, and in some cases many farmers, believe that safety practices are inherently better on smaller farms than on large-scale agribusinesses. One of the causes for the contaminated food comes from the lack of USDA regulations on small-scale producers.

Currently, farms that process fewer than 20,000 chickens are exempt from USDA inspections. While they are also prohibited from selling across state lines, small farms can sell their products at local markets and fairs. From a scientific standpoint, there is little reason why a large farm would be less safe than a small farm, according to senior health officials at the Oregon Public Health Division.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer