Posted: December 21, 2016

In 2014, more than 8,100 farmers markets were listed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Consumers are eager for fresh produce straight from the farm, and according to Sam Watson, a senior majoring in food science and minoring in microbiology, most of them think the food is safer than that at grocery stores.

"Our research suggests that the majority of farmers market consumers think that the food they buy at farmers markets is safer than the food they buy at grocery stores and supermarkets," said Watson. "But there is no evidence to suggest that farmers market foods are safer than grocery store or supermarket foods."

Watson is conducting research with Catherine Cutter, professor of food science, to investigate consumer beliefs about the safety of farmers market foods. Specifically, the team created a consumer survey project that focused on understanding the knowledge, behaviors, and attitudes consumers in Pennsylvania have about the safety of farmers market foods. The researchers surveyed more than 200 farmers market consumers across the state.

Besides learning that consumers believe that farmers market foods are safer than grocery store foods, the team found that farmers market consumers are not knowledgeable about correct cooking temperatures of meat and poultry or the bacterial hazards in meat, poultry, and raw milk," said Watson.

"Farmers markets have become an integral part of the agricultural infrastructure of our country," said Watson. "Our goal is to learn as much as we can about the safety of famers market foods so that we can assist in making them safer."

So far, the team is using the information gleaned from its survey to develop a pamphlet for farmers market consumers detailing the potential hazards of the food they purchase and giving them other important information such as proper cooking and storage temperatures for their food. The pamphlets will be distributed to farmers markets across the state.

"Working on my own research project has been the most valuable learning experience I have had as a Penn State student," said Watson, who plans to pursue a master's degree in food science. "And working hands on with the graduate students in our lab, Dr. Cutter, and other professors in the department has supplemented my classroom learning better than I could have ever expected."