How, When and Where Our Food Comes From, Do You Know?

— Written By Rachel Monteverdi and last updated by Margaret Green

For many Americans, food is easy to get and easy to eat. Youth often believe food magically appears in the grocery store and all you have to do is throw it in the cart, pay your money, and off you go! Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy. The majority of the time, our fresh fruits and vegetables have been carefully planted in good soil at a particular point within a season. Fresh foods have also been nurtured, watered, weeded, and harvested by folks who are very well educated in agriculture.

Oftentimes, trucks travel hundreds or thousands of miles to get food from a field to a table. The good news is that more and more individuals are realizing the tremendous benefits of eating healthy and buying local. For one, when we buy our food (and products) locally, we help support our economy in positive fashion.

If you are like me, you might consider purchasing food locally from a farmers market or road side stand. But what if you purchase food from a road side stand and when you get home you just aren’t sure about those fresh fruits and vegetables? What can you do to be certain the items you feed your family are safe? Just because it’s farmstand fresh doesn’t necessarily mean you’re good to go.

First, get to know your local food provider. Talk to them about their practices. Ask questions about their operation, how they clean their produce, whether or not they have hand washing stations or toilet facilities, and how they control pests. You could also ask if they have taken courses or are certified in Good Agriculture Practices, otherwise known as GAP. Information about NC GAP can be found at this website: http://ncagr.gov/markets/gradnreg/foodsafety/index.htm

Second, when selecting produce, take note of the condition of the products. Do you see a number of items that are bruised or damaged? Does everything look, feel and smell fresh? If not, move on to a different vendor. Of course, even though food may look fine, it still may not be safe. To reduce risks, start by washing your hands under running water for about thirty seconds. When you are ready to eat or prepare your produce, wash the fruit even if it has a peel. If the fruits or vegetables are firm like a cucumber, scrub them with a clean produce brush. For those who aren’t ready to cook the items right away, store produce in the refrigerator within two hours. Again, the goal is to minimize food safety risks and keep your family safe.

Finally, recognize that knowledge is empowering. Educate yourself about what you are eating. For example, some foods are known as the dirty dozen, other foods should not be eaten if you are pregnant or have a weakened immune system – and there is a difference between organic and certified organic foods.

To gain additional knowledge, please see the websites below and remember, National Farm City week is November 21st to November 27th. Enjoy!

http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/basics/index.html

http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm114299

http://www.foodsafety.gov/blog/farmers_market.html

http://www.ncagr.gov/fooddrug/food/homebiz.htm

http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/basics-for-handling-food-safely/CT_Index

http://ncagr.gov/markets/gradnreg/foodsafety/index.htm

http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/GuidanceDocuments/ProduceandPlanProducts/UCM169112.pdf

http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3004446

Family and Consumer Science Agent

Cooperative Extension