Penn State researchers, after completing the final phase of an innovative five-year study, have concluded that many vendors at farmers markets take inadequate precautions to prevent the spread of foodborne illness, and they should be trained to reduce food-safety risks.
Using a comprehensive three-way approach, the research assessed food safety behaviors at Pennsylvania farmers markets using direct concealed observations, state sanitarian observations, and self-reported vendor surveys. The results revealed key distinctions between observed vendor food-handling practices -by both researchers and state sanitarians- and vendor self-reported practices.
The findings, which were published Nov. 1 in Food Protection Trends, suggest that Pennsylvania would greatly benefit from a customized food-safety training program offered to farmers market vendors to address the identified issues and regulatory requirements for selling safe foods in Pennsylvania.
In the study, researchers checked select samples of leafy green produce and meat obtained from farmers markets in Pennsylvania for the presence of hygiene indicators -coliforms, fecal coliforms, Listeria, and E. coli- and found cause for concern.
E. coli was present in 40 percent of beef samples; 18 percent of pork samples; 28 percent of kale samples; 29 percent of lettuce samples and 17 percent of spinach samples. They found Listeria in 8 percent of beef samples; 2 percent of kale samples; 4 percent of lettuce samples and 7 percent of spinach samples.