Rita Hodges

Extension Service

Visiting a farmersí market is a fun way to find locally grown foods.

In Texas, there are more than 100 farmersí markets across the state offering seasonal produce, eggs, honey and other items for sale. For many, shopping at a farmersí market is an opportunity to

interact with growers and learn about foods being produced in the local area.

For peak quality and nutrition, choose your produce carefully. Fruits and vegetables are great sources of fiber, vitamins A, C and foliate and the mineral potassium. Aim for 2 cups of fruit and 2 Ĺ cups of vegetables each day (based on a 2,000 calorie diet). Two cups of raw, leafy vegetables such as lettuce or spinach counts for one cup, so include different vegetables in your diet each day. To get the most nutrition, eat fruits and vegetables of all colors.

Select produce at farmersí markets the same way you do at the grocery store. Avoid overripe produce or produce with bruises, mold, cuts or other blemishes that can result in poor quality or contamination by bacteria.

Buy only what you can use within a few days; otherwise, the produce may spoil and be wasted.

Bring your own bag to carry your produce. Canvas bags hold up well and can be washed and reused.

Go early for best selection. Some items may be on sale at the end of the day but popular items sell out fast.

Store your fresh produce safely. The quality of fresh produce begins to decline after it is picked, so get it home right away. Storage recommendations for fresh produce vary because of temperature and humidity requirements.

Store these foods at room temperature in a clean, dry, well-ventilated place out of direct sunlight: bananas, melons, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.

Allow these foods to ripen on the counter and then store them in the refrigerator: avocados, kiwifruit, nectarines, peaches, pears and plums. While on the counter, donít keep them in plastic bags, as this can slow down the ripening process and cause the fruit to decay.

Keep fruits and vegetables separate in the refrigerator. Fruits produce a gas that can shorten the life of vegetables. Some vegetables, on the other hand, produce strong odors that can be absorbed by fruits.

To help maintain quality while in the refrigerator, you can place the produce in perforated plastic bags (bags with tiny holes in them). This maintains moisture while allowing air to circulate in and out of the bags. If you store produce in plastic bags without holes, moisture can build up and lead to the growth of mold or bacteria.

If you have raw meat, poultry, fish or seafood in the refrigerator, store them in a plastic container or pan to keep the juices from dripping on the fresh produce.

Always wash your hands before you handle fresh produce.

Do not wash fresh produce until you are ready to use it. Produce has a natural coating that helps keep in the moisture and freshness. If you wash produce before placing it in the refrigerator, you remove the coating causing the produce to spoil faster.

Wash all produce thoroughly with cool, running water, even if the peel is removed. This removes dirt or mud and reduces the exposure to germs that could cause a foodborne illness. Do not use soap or detergent to wash produce, as these have not been approved for use on food.

During food preparation, use separate cutting boards for meat and produce to prevent cross-contamination. Wash and sanitize cutting boards after use.

Refrigerate cut or peeled fruits and vegetables within two hours. If the temperature outside is 90 degrees or warmer, refrigerate within one hour.

For more information, contact Rita M. Hodges, county extension agent for family and consumer sciences, 701 S. Interstate 35E, Suite 3, Waxahachie; call 972-825-5175; or email rmhodges@ag.tamu.edu.