Investigation: Farmers markets food safety

TULSA - For Taylor and Jordan Miller the farmers market is a way to enjoy the outdoors.

"I love the weather, even though it's hot," said Taylor. "It beats sitting on your sofa, getting out and doing stuff and getting involved."

"It's healthier, the organic grown stuff and I think it definitely tastes better," said Jordan.

Farmers markets are growing in popularity.

According to our partners at Scripps Howard News Service the number of farmers markets have nearly doubled in five years, with more than 7,000 markets nationwide.

For more information about Farmers Markets go to our special section, Farmers Market: Pick with Care at kjrh.com/farmersmarket.

But when it comes to how safe the food is, "I haven't thought about it, but something to think about," said Jordan Miller.

Many don't think about it.

Locally, the Tulsa County Health Department inspects farmers markets once a year. So we poured over inspection reports of four major markets in Tulsa for the past two years.

We looked at the Cherry Street Farmer's Market, the Downtown Tulsa Farmers' Market, the Brookside Farmers Market and the Pearl Farmers Market. No violations were found at any of them in each of the markets' most recent inspection.


Meanwhile, we looked over national data and in those reports from other states, we did find some concerns.

In fact, national reports found cantaloupes tainted with Listeria, sold at outlets including farmers markets, killed at least 30 people and sickened 46 others in 28 states.

It's reasons like that, that local health inspectors are out in Tulsa County.

"Make sure the produce is up off the ground. We like overhead protection. We want to make sure that the produce comes from Oklahoma and that they're not selling any produce that is not in sound condition," said Kendra Wise, a health inspector for the Tulsa County Health Department.

And when it comes to items in containers, "We do allow the people that have jams and salsa to sample. They have to set up a temporary hand-washing station so that they can keep their hands clean and not contaminate their food," said Wise.

Inspectors also make sure the ingredients are listed on the products. Its all part of ensuring farmers are following the regulations.

"Just to educate the people that are growing our food and make sure that they understand that there are a lot of ways that you can make people sick," said Wise.

Wise says that is paired with a good working relationship with the market managers.

"They'll give me a call if they come up with a great idea and we'll just kind of talk our way through it, and we just really avoid a lot of issues that other people might come across when they're dealing with farmers markets," said Wise.

It seems to be working.

Local inspection reports show no violations at any of Tulsa area markets over the past couple of years.

As for Jordan and Taylor, they feel what they get at the farmers market is actually safer than the grocery store.

"I feel like they care about their food more. It's their job. It's what they do. It says organic and I feel safe about that," said Taylor.

"As long as it looks clean enough to buy and if says organic I typically believe them that it hasn't had pesticides and stuff," said Jordan.

The Tulsa County Health Department now does even more thorough inspections than before because federal food inspection standards have also increased over the past couple of years.

If a violation is found locally, the farmer's market manager could get anything from a verbal warning, to losing their registration status to sell.

You can search farmers markets inspections by clicking here .

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