As part of the Department of Defense's Healthy Base Initiative, some military posts have introduced farmers markets to encourage healthy eating. These seasonal markets can offer locally grown fruits and vegetables, meats and baked goods.
The U.S. Army Public Health Command recognizes the possible health benefits of the fresh fruits and vegetables offered at these markets, but the USAPHC veterinary food inspection specialists also keep a close eye on the safety of the items sold.
"Foods from local growers are often picked the same day they are sold, so they are very fresh and are more nutritious," explained Chief Warrant Officer 5 Christopher Finch, USAPHC Food Protection Program deputy program manager. "Freshness is one of the biggest advantages of local farmers markets."
However, since they come straight from the farm, they also need to be washed carefully to remove any contamination.
Finch suggests a common-sense approach when buying food from farmers markets.
"Even though we all know vegetables are healthy, if not handled correctly they can cause a lot of problems," he said.
To avoid illness the Food and Drug Administration also recommends that raw fruits and vegetables be washed with clean, cold water to reduce bacteria that may be present on fresh produce.
To help avoid other health risks, no canned goods other than jarred jams and jellies and no unpasteurized milk or milk products will be available at the installation farmers markets. Only meats from approved source vendors will be offered for sale.
"The first market of the year was held at Fort Meade, Md., on May 21." said Finch. "With the help of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and our Public Health Command region food inspectors, we evaluated the six farms and vendors participating to ensure they meet minimal federal food-safety standards to protect buyers."
Collaboration among installation planning personnel; Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation, Public Health Command regional veterinary food inspection specialists, installation preventive medicine personnel, and the USAPHC food inspectors was key to planning this event, according to Capt. Nadia Kendall-Diaz, environmental health chief at Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center, Fort Meade.
"Everyone got together early, kept open minds and worked with all of the different regulations and post policies to plan an event that was designed to benefit Fort Meade personnel," said Diaz.
"Lessons learned from the first farmers market will benefit these events in the future," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Richard Belcher, USAPHC food safety inspector.
Fourteen installations in nine states plan to host weekly farmers markets during the growing season, and USAPHC veterinary food inspectors will be at each one to ensure state regulations are followed.
The DOD Veterinary Services Activity is developing a policy for farmers markets on military installations, and veterinary food inspectors from the USAPHC are providing input using information gained by visiting the markets.
"Going to farmers markets gives the buyer a chance to get to know the farmer and ask questions about products or preparation methods," Finch said. "They also provide a learning opportunity for children and their families about healthy foods and where they come from."