May 5, 2020
Food Expert Shares Tips for Shopping Safely at Farmers' Markets
A Kansas State University food safety specialist encourages consumers to head out to their local farmers’ market, and to keep safety in mind.
“Shopping at farmers’ markets is a great way to get healthy fruits, vegetables and other foods while supporting local farmers,” said Londa Nwadike, who has a joint Extension appointment with K-State Research and Extension and the University of Missouri.
Yet, shopping at the farmers’ market during the COVID-19 pandemic requires some extra precautions, Nwadike said:
Be prepared. Call the market or check its website or social media pages to see which vendors and items will be available. “Give yourself extra time,” Nwadike said. “Shopping might take longer with extra safety measures in place, as many Kansas farmers’ markets have updated their procedures to provide extra safety to customers and vendors. Make a list so you can efficiently find the items you need.”
Before entering the market, remind yourself to avoid touching your face and cellphone. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing a mask or other cloth face covering when in places where social distancing can be difficult.
“Make sure to use a designated entry point when going in,” Nwadike said. “The farmers’ market may have established separate entrances and exits to avoid bottlenecks of people coming and going.”
Choose items with your eyes, not your hands. Let vendors handle the products you select. Stay at least 6 feet away from other people as much as possible.
“You want to avoid standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other customers while examining items,” Nwadike said. “Be patient and courteous while people ahead of you complete their purchases.”
Avoid using cash when possible. Many vendors and markets accept debit, credit and EBT/SNAP cards.
Make use of hand washing stations or hand sanitizer. The CDC recommends hand washing with soap and water, but if hand washing is not available, hand sanitizer can also be used.
For now, resist the temptation to socialize while shopping. “Farmers’ markets are normally a place to enjoy the atmosphere and visit with the vendors and other friends, but right now, farmers’ markets are importantly a source of food and a way to support local farmers,” Nwadike said. Consider sending just one household member to the market at this time.
Wash all produce before eating. “Even though there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 has been transmitted through food or food packaging, it is always important to use good food safety practices, which will help control foodborne illness as well as COVID-19,” Nwadike said. “That means washing the whole produce, even if you don’t eat the peel. Wash items such as cantaloupe and potatoes with a produce brush.”
Nwadike said commercial produce washes have not been shown to be more effective than water from the kitchen faucet. “All the research shows that clean, running water is the best way for consumers to wash produce,” she said.
If you’re running multiple errands, Nwadike also recommends making the farmers’ market your last stop to minimize the amount of time perishable foods sit in the car.
Safety recommendations change regularly. For the most current information on the spread of COVID-19 and the government’s response, consumers should contact their local or state health department or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.