Can you shop at a farmers’ market and rest assured about the safety of the products you buy? A new study by University of California, Davis, researchers finds a low risk of contamination of foodborne pathogens on produce and meat at Northern California certified farmers’ markets, but still finds cause for some concern.

The study, published in the Journal of Food Protection, examined the prevalence of Salmonella on meat and produce, as well as the prevalence of generic E. coli on produce. Samples were taken from 44 certified Northern California farmers markets, including in the Sacramento region and Bay Area. Highlights of their findings include:

  • All produce samples tested negative for Salmonella.
  • Six (1.8%) of 338 meat samples tested positive for Salmonella.
  • E. coli prevalence in produce was 40 (31.3%) of 128 samples tested.
  • Salmonella isolates were resistant to nalidixic acid and tetracycline.

“Based on this data, I think it’s safe to consume meat and produce from farmers markets,” said lead author Alda Pires, a UC Cooperative Extension specialist and research scientist in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “That’s a low risk of contamination of foodborne pathogens, especially Salmonella.”

While the prevalence of generic E. coli may seem relatively high, the concentrations were low. Pires said that’s especially so compared to previous studies of contamination at farmers markets elsewhere in the United States. The prevalence of Salmonella in meat sampled from Northern California farmers markets is also much lower than what previous studies have found in grocery stores. Among the produce sampled, leafy greens had the highest prevalence of E. coli, followed by root vegetables.

“The study raises awareness that it’s not just very large farms that can have contamination,” said co-author Michele Jay-Russell, with the Western Center for Food Safety at UC Davis. “Farmers need to pay attention to everything they’re doing, from planting to storage, to avoid contamination.”

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