ORONO, Maine — Summer is here, and along with the sun and warmer temperatures come added dangers for consumers and vendors at area farmers markets.
Beth Calder, a food science specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Division of Food and Health, was on hand at the Orono Farmers Market on Tuesday afternoon to share some summer-specific food safety tips with shoppers.
Primarily, Calder was concerned that market patrons are unaware of what she calls the “temperature danger zone,” which falls between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Perishable foods left in the danger zone for more than two hours, such as in a hot car or the market table, should be thrown away as they are unsafe to eat.
“We just want consumers to think about bringing a cooler with them,” Calder said, adding that she was concerned shoppers “may be leaving items in their car longer than they should be.”
While a cooler and ice can prevent the growth of bacteria for a time, they should not be considered a safe storage option for more than a few hours.
Heat build-up inside cars is especially worrisome for Calder, who said that an ice-packed cooler “should be good for an hour or so, but it depends on how hot it is in the car.”
At the table for Olde Oak Farm of Maxfield, Calder pointed out the ways vendors not only can keep consumers safe, but also follow the letter of the law. Olde Oak staff members time-stamp their blended goat cheese samples when they are removed from the cooler to keep track of how long each has been on the table. A modified shaker, much like one used for parmesan cheese at a pizzeria, holds spoons for sampling to ensure that customers touch only one utensil, thus preventing the spread of germs.
As always, personal hygiene is a must when handling food, according to Calder. She recommends the use of liquid hand sanitizers by anyone handling food at the market and said that vendors should keep disinfecting wipes at their tables to keep surfaces clean.
Calder said hygiene extends far past personal space with a reminder that all foods should be washed thoroughly. While free of pesticides, even organic foods commonly found at farmers markets carry bacteria, which must be removed before consumption.