Farmer’s Market Vs. Grocery Store: Which Is Safer?

Everybody has a favorite place to buy groceries. For consumers, the decision to shop at a farmer’s market is typically motivated by the desire for healthier food than what can be found at large grocery stores. Farmer’s markets generally offer food grown organically or at least locally, rather than the food transported thousands of miles as found in big chain grocery stores.

Perception vs. Reality

The perception is that the produce from the farmers market is cleaner, healthier, affordable and helpful to the local economy. This notion has spurred a significant rise in local food purchases. Demand for locally grown produce rose to $7 billion in 2012, almost double the amount in 2002. Interestingly, there is no evidence supporting the idea that locally grown produce is, in fact, healthier than what you would find in a large grocery store. This is most likely due to the heterogeneous nature of local farms. It is impossible to fit them all into a single health category, as each farm operates differently. The locally grown bell pepper you just bought might be organically grown, free of pesticides and genetic modifications, or it might be loaded with more chemicals than your bathroom cleaning products. There’s no way to know without inspecting that farm yourself.

Inspections vs. Self-Governance

Some argue that consumers need objective, legitimate oversight of farmer’s markets, but because of the nature of the producers, they don’t always get it. Small farmers escape inspections to which big suppliers and grocery stores are subject. As a result, pathogens have become problems at farmers markets, and self-governance hasn’t always been an ideal substitute for government inspections. Pathogens frequently found in eggs and chicken at farmers markets include:

  • Salmonella
  • Listeria
  • E-coli

Observing the Rules

While farmers in the local markets express awareness and concern for the problem of pathogens, they occasionally break the rules of food storage like allowing eggs to sit in the sun or chickens to lie in containers without refrigeration or ice packs. Proper handling of eggs and chicken by the consumer usually eliminates the problem, but the way people shop at farmers markets often results in suspect chicken and eggs sharing the same bag with other produce, and that’s a problem. Critics have noticed two areas of concern at farmers markets:

  • Not following safe food storage guidelines
  • Illegally crossing state borders to sell at bigger markets

Some farmers may know the law but choose to ignore it. Consumers who want to enjoy the food from farmers markets must be aware of these issues and the potential for consumer product injuries and illnesses regardless of where they shop.