CLEVELAND - The food is fresh, local, and healthy. Those are just a few of the reasons why shoppers told NewsChannel5's investigators they enjoy buying food at farmers markets. Before your next trip to the market, read our five things you didn't know about the growing food shopping trend. They'll help you be a smarter shopper.
1. They're popular
There's been a boom in farmers markets. There were 7,175 in 2011, an increase of 17 percent since 2010, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There are more than 400 farmers markets operating in Ohio, according to Terri Gerhardt, the assistant chief of the division of food safety for the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Gerhardt said she often receives calls from potential vendors who want to know what they can sell and what they need to do to start selling products at farmers markets.
2. There are no rules!
Well, not exactly, but farmers and vendors who sell fruits and vegetables aren't inspected by state or local health inspectors. Ohio law exempts fruits and vegetables from food inspections, according to Gerhardt. Gerhardt said there is little risk uncut, unprocessed fruits and vegetables will make someone sick. NewsChannel5 investigators checked it out. We found no reports of foodborne illnesses from Ohio farmers markets.
3. They're not just for farmers
From honey to hemp bars , farmers markets have become popular places for local bakers and small food companies to sell their products. When NewsChannel5 investigators checked out farmer's markets around northeast Ohio, we spotted everything from gyros to homemade cupcakes and cookies for sale. Those vendors, including food trucks, don't have it as easy as farmers. They're usually required to have special licenses. For example, vendors preparing food that requires refrigeration or heat must obtain a mobile vendor license from their county health departments. The license allows county health inspectors to check if the vendor has the proper equipment and knowledge to safely prepare food.
4. They need their temperatures taken
Foods that need to be heated have to be kept at a temperature of at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Foods that need to be refrigerated need to be kept no warmer than 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything different can cause a vendor to be forced to pack up and leave a market. When our Cincinnati crew followed a Hamilton County health inspector, he shut down Ohio City Pasta on the spot at a farmers market in Anderson Township. One reason: When he stuck a thermometer into their cooler, he found their sauces were being kept at 45 degrees.
5. They're all about labels
If you see packaged products for sale that don't have a label, like bread or jam, the vendor is not only breaking state rules, they could put be putting your health at risk, according to Rick Melendez, a supervisor with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health. Melendez said customers with food allergies need to make sure any product they buy has an accurate and complete label. He said the labels should include the name of the food, who made it, and a list of the ingredients. There are plenty of reasons to be cautious about the products at farmers markets. NewsChannel5 checked state inspection reports for markets in northeast Ohio. We found 27 vendors were written up for labeling violations. Many vendors left important ingredients, like flour or fruit, off their labels, according to the reports.
NewsChannel5 investigators found dozens of other violations when we poured over state inspection reports. We also uncovered that few inspections are being done to make sure markets are following food safety rules. Watch NewsChannel5 Investigator Sarah Buduson's full report on NewsChannel5 at 11 p.m. on Friday, July 20.
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