Farmers markets and food safety

Last spring, I noted that Marc Bellemare from he University of Minnesota gave a provocative seminar in our department on the relationship between farmers markets and foodborne illness.  This weekend, the Marc discuss the research in a piece for the New York Times. 

Here is the main finding:

As we will report in an updated version of an unpublished working paper released last summer, we found correlations that, in statistical parlance, are too robust to ignore. First, we found a positive correlation between the number of farmers markets per capita in a given state and in a given year and the number of reported outbreaks, regardless of type, of food-borne illness per capita in that state that year. Then, we found a similar positive correlation between farmers markets per capita and reported individual cases of food-borne illness per capita.


And even if our results did identify a causal relationship between farmers markets and food-borne illness, it would not be possible to identify the precise mechanisms through which this happens, and it would be a critical mistake to conclude that the foods sold at farmers markets are themselves to blame. That is because most cases of illness are caused by consumers who undercook or fail to wash their food. Indeed, our results may suggest that many people erroneously believe that food bought at farmers markets needn’t be washed because it is “natural.”