Keeping food cool in the Union Square Greenmarket

by Amanda Gomez and Whitney Kimball

Come at 6:30 a.m. to the Union Square Greenmarket, and you’ll catch butchers with crates of steaming dry ice, fish sellers shoveling crushed ice into buckets, restaurateurs filling up big wheeled rubber carts with produce and florists trimming their bouquets.

Greenmarket has been New York City’s flagship farmer’s market for 40 years, a trusted source for locally-grown goods, some of it organic. And with temperature hitting 89 degrees Fahrenheit on Wednesday – and a high of 95 degrees in mid-August, according to the Weather Channel – we wondered how its regional vendors with a long drive and hours in the sun manage to adhere to New York City food safety laws. Food must be refrigerated at 45 degrees or below, or heated at 140 degrees and above, according to New York State Department of Health’s guidelines for food safety.

Here’s the Union Square Greenmarket from Barnes and Noble.

Food Safety

What happens when your meat thaws on the subway ride home? According to foodsafety.gov, meat is safe to refreeze as long as the meat contains ice crystals and feels as cold as refrigerated foods. It becomes inedible, according to federal guidelines, if your subway ride is over 2 hours (or, it is in an environment of over 40 degrees for that long).

Chicken is kept fresh in ice at the market. Yellow Bell Farm will freezes the chicken that is not sold.

A vendor from Stony Mountain Ranch, which sells grass-fed beef has his own rule of thumb: never re-freeze after food begins to thaw. A second vendor from the chicken Yellow Bell Farm agrees. “It gets weird,” she says. The U.S. Department of Agriculture deems it technically safe to thaw and re-freeze food, though “there may be a loss of quality due to the moisture lost through thawing.”

Don’t Worry About the Cheese

For cheese, sitting out is considered a safety must. Peter from Consider Bardwell Farm, which sells goat and milk cheese, explained that while raw milk is illegal, cheese made from raw milk can be sold in the U.S. as long as it has been aged for 60 days at over 35 degrees. The 60 days rule was established back in 1949, though the rule has been called into question in recent years after the CDC found cases of E. coli in raw milk Gouda aged over 60 days.

“It is, in fact, an arbitrary number,” writes Benjamin Roberts for Serious Eats.

Peter prepares the cheese for Consider Bardwell Farm.

Good mold vs. Bad mold

Cheese needs mold; the “caves” used to age wheels of goat’s milk each acquire their own bacterial character, giving each cheese its particular vintage. “This one has kind of a blue cheese flavor to it,” Peter said, cutting open an orange wheel.

Maple syrup has its own fraught relationship with mold. “Bacteria love maple syrup,” says Alouette Anderson of Roxbury Mountain Maple. Syrup will spoil if it is not refrigerated after opening, so she recommends freezing maple syrup if a customer buys a gallon. But if the mold does accumulate, just boil the syrup and “wipe off the white stuff.”

Roxbury Mountain Maple offers more than syrup. The New York State business sells soda, sweets and cotton candy.

But the bacteria can be a plus, too, she says. Anderson even claims that some doctors recommend taking maple syrup with antibiotics and hospitals use it to clean their walls, although she did not have a specific example. Presumably this is based on evidence from a 2015 study conducted at McGill University, showing that the phenolic compounds in maple syrup helped weaken the walls of bacteria like E. coli, helping to weaken the bacteria.

The Longtime Loyalists

Employees from Craft are all set with their produce from the market.

About 60,000 people visit the Union Square Greenmarket for each day that it’s open. You’ll find everyone there from European tourists to restaurateurs in white coats.

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