Health standards and your local farmers market

Lemons and onions for sale at Hollister Farmers Market. Photo by Jean Vengua.

Those of us who shop at farmers markets do so for various reasons: it’s fun, and a good excuse to get outside, out of the house; we want to support local farmers and businesses, and know exactly where I produce comes from; and last but not least, it seems to be a healthier option than shopping in a big grocery chain. But there are health standards to be met at farmers markets, too. An article in, “No major health violations, but no testing either,” reminded me that we shouldn’t take health standards for granted when shopping at our local farmers market.

It would be wise to consider what health inspectors look for when they are checking health standards in outdoor markets. Reporter Damon Arthur interviewed inspector Fern Hastings, who outlined a few (certainly not all) of the basics:

* …inspectors are checking for such things as properly displaying and storing produce and other goods for sale.

* For example, items for sale have to be at least 6 inches off the ground. Cutting surfaces have to be smooth, nonabsorbent and easily cleaned, according to guidelines from the California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health.

* Food preparation is not allowed at farmers markets except to provide samples, and food offered for sampling must be washed and kept in clean containers. Hand-washing facilities must be kept nearby, according to the California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health.

* Potentially hazardous food such as raw milk has to be maintained at temperatures no higher than 45 degrees. Among other requirements, eggs need to be properly stored out of the sunlight, must be labeled “refrigerate after purchase” and must have a date marked on them.

* Vendors of nonagricultural goods and prepared foods such as pies and tamales have to be separated from agricultural commodities like tomatoes, cucumbers and peaches, the guidelines say.

Keep in mind that this is for Shasta County Health Division. The County Agricultural Commission also inspects the produce. Locally, the Monterey County Office of the Agricultural Commissioner oversees farmers markets, and North Monterey County farmers and outdoor market vendors must follow stringent rules in order to operate.

See also:

* Map of certified farmers markets (Monterey County)

* California Dept. of Food & Agriculture
* Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Markets