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A Third of All Farmers' Market Produce Is Contaminated With This, Study Finds

Researchers have found traces of fecal matter on 30% of tested produce.
farmers market

Farmers' markets are the epitome of clean eating. Choosing to spend our grocery budgets on all that seasonal organically-grown produce and humanely-raised meat makes us feel like we're doing something good for ourselves, our communities, as well as the environment. And while all that may be true, farmers' market finds may not be as clean as we think they are—quite literally. A recent piece of research out of UC Davis in California shows just how "dirty" foods from the farmers' market can be.

In an effort to examine food safety risks associated with consuming beef, pork, poultry, and fresh produce purchased from farmers' markets, researchers purchased a sample of products from 44 certified farmers' markets in Northern California. The samples were then tested for common foodborne pathogens, and some of the results were truly mind-boggling. (Related: 9 Restaurant Chains That Closed Hundreds of Locations This Summer.)

About 6% of the meat samples tested were positive for Salmonella, while none of the produce samples were contaminated with the bacteria. However, a whopping 31% of the fresh produce samples tested positive for E. Coli, which means they contained traces of fecal matter.

The worst offenders? Leafy greens and root vegetables, which had the highest E. coli prevalence.

While this information is enough to put you off fruits and veggies for good, the researchers say this isn't as bleak as it seems. While the contamination rate was high, the concentration of E. Coli was quite low, ranging from 0 to 2.96, with an overall average of 0.13. Such a low level isn't as likely to affect human health upon consumption, says Toby Amidor, an award-winning nutrition and food safety expert.

So how should you treat your farmers' market produce to reduce the chances of getting infected with E. Coli? Wash it with clean water, says Amidor.

"Any produce with a tough exterior, like avocados or melon, you can use a stiff-bristled clean brush while washing it under running water," Amidor adds. "There is no need to use soap, a produce wash, bleach, or anything else, which can actually make you sick."

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Mura Dominko
Mura Dominko is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!. Read more
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