What Products should You Pay Attention to, when Shopping in Summer

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meat_cWith summer, comes an abundant supply of fresh local farm products and the healthier eating habits that go along with the seemingly endless supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. St. Mary's County Health Department encourages consumers to buy local, and to learn about safe consumption of food products to ensure a summer free of food borne illnesses.


"Most people know that washing fresh fruits and vegetables is the smart thing to do no matter where they are purchased," noted the County's Health Officer, Dr. William Icenhower, "however, what consumers may be less aware of is the health risks associated with meats, eggs, and baked items." Both measures, washing fresh products and exercising caution when selecting processed foods and other food items for purchase, will help protect you and your families from harmful bacteria that can make you sick.

While the health department joins regional and national marketing campaigns that promote the healthy outcomes of 'buying local,' Dr. Icenhower's main concern for local residents is that consumers may overlook the hidden risks of purchasing some products. He notes that the probability of getting a serious food borne illness such as botulism is relatively low, but the severity of that disease alone is high enough to warrant a consumer advisory to pay attention to the source and processing history of low sugar and canned acidified foods, including some fruits and vegetables, relishes, pickles, and salsas.

Icenhower is looking forward to a productive growing season this year since he and his wife buy most of their summer fruit and vegetable produce from our local outdoor markets. As the county's health officer, he and his staff are charged with the effort to oversee state and federal licensing requirements and ensuring that local food producers are trained and educated about food sale restrictions and proper food handling so they maintain their outstanding reputation with our local citizens.

According to Icenhower, the Health Department has a dual responsibility of protecting both the consumer and the farmer. "Unsafe food products not only put people's health at risk, but also put the summer farmers' market economy at risk should a severe illness occur from a product made available at a local market," he noted.

"As is the case for local supermarkets, all foods sold at local outdoor stands and markets need to be properly labeled with the name and address of the manufacturer or distributor, ingredients, and net weight," he added.

While self-regulation and certification is the established standard for our local farmers, the Health Department is continuing its inspection and surveillance efforts while increasing efforts to educate vendors in safe food handling practices. Nevertheless, consumers need to be aware of the potential risks that come with eating some foods.

Most farmers' market stands are unpermitted and must limit the types of products they sell. Approved items include:

  • Fruit preserves
  • Honey
  • Simple baked goods (without cream filling or custard)
  • Fresh produce
  • Eggs from Maryland Department of Agriculture approved flocks; sold at temperatures below 45 degrees F
  • Fish sold as caught
  • Live crabs

Consumers should be especially alert to items that cannot be sold at an unlicensed stand:

  • Low-acid home canned products, such as canned vegetables, relishes and salsas
  • Processed meats, cheeses and butter
  • Potentially hazardous baked goods containing cream cheese, custard filling or topping
  • Eggs from an unlicensed source sold above 45 degrees F.


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