Summer is almost, sorta, kinda, officially here—which means we're entering peak produce season. Farmers markets have long been the ideal place to shop for freshly picked berries for breakfast and a few ears of corn to throw on the grill.
But is it safe to pick up groceries at your local farmers market during the coronavirus pandemic? We asked experts to weigh in on how to safely support your local farmer and get some fresh-air shopping time, too.
Avoid other shoppers.
In the same way you distance yourself from other customers when you're shopping at a supermarket, you should do so at a farmers market, says Robert W. Amler, MD, dean of New York Medical College's School of Health Sciences and Practice. "Spaces should be laid out to encourage a minimum of six feet distancing in the aisles, checkout lines, etc."
Keep your hands clean.
Again, your goal is to follow the same protocol you maintain when you shop at your neighborhood grocery store. "This means you should sanitize your hands whenever you touch a surface and always keep your hands away from your face," Dr. Amler says.
Block your exposure to the virus.
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It doesn't matter that you're shopping al fresco—everyone needs to be wearing a mask, including shoppers and staff (who should also always wear gloves when handling food). "If you notice no or low rates of mask use, I would advise you to shop elsewhere," says Oneyma Ogbuagu, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious disease specialist and associate professor of medicine at the university.
Opt for pre-bagged items.
While food items can't transmit the virus, the way these items are handled by others can be problematic. Your best bet is to select items that have been pre-bagged by staffers. "Food that's pre-bagged isn't a big risk, but if you're concerned, you can always wipe off the packaging on the outside before opening any bags," Dr. Amler says. "However, if your only option is fresh produce in a bin, always wash it off with water before you consume it."
Take a close look at the market set-up.
To feel safe next time you shop at a farmers market, be sure to keep an eye on overcrowding since this is huge red flag that the farmers market may not be managed well. "If vendors are placed too close together, I'd advise leaving the farmers market," Dr. Ogbuagu adds.
Zero in on the cleanliness factor.
Routine cleaning of the market and good ventilation with open booths that enable fresh air to flow through are a good sign. "This shows that the managers are taking good care to protect everyone's safety," Dr. Amler says.
Get in and get out.
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As much as we all love lingering in a farmers market, times are different now. Make it a goal to keep your shopping trip as quick as possible, and don't bring the entire family with you, Dr. Amler says.
Fight the urge to hug a friend.
No doubt farmers markets have always been community gathering places, and human contact is something we're all craving now more than ever. However, resist the urge to hug even your closest of friends should you happen to have a bump-in at the farmers market. "Please don't shake hands or touch others," Dr. Ogbuagu says. Listen to what the experts are saying and save all that affection—and close contact—for the wonderful time when the pandemic is finally behind us.
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