Food Safety Q&A

Is Produce Gluten-Free?

Q: I’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease, which means I must consume a gluten-free diet. How do I know which fresh fruits and vegetables contain gluten? Are there laws requiring food companies to label gluten in their products?

Gluten is a composite found in wheat and related grains like barley and rye. Anyone eating a gluten-free diet must abstain from foods containing or processed with these ingredients.

The good news is that all fresh fruits and vegetables are inherently free of gluten, so you do not need to worry when eating whole, fresh produce. But because gluten-free labeling is only voluntary, you will need to be especially careful when buying or consuming other foods that may contain it. The popularity of the gluten-free diet has prompted many companies to create special products—but unless specified, most breads, pastas, pastries, and cereals are made with grain-based flours.

Food Safety Director


Q: There has been a lot of talk about avoiding cross-contamination; what exactly is that?

Cross-contamination is the spread of bacteria from one surface to another. It is important to keep your produce separated from raw meats, poultry, or seafood. Juice from uncooked meat or poultry can transfer and contaminate other cooked or non-cooked food items, such as fresh produce. If possible, you should have separate cutting boards and utensils; one for produce and one for meats and poultry. If using the same cutting board and utensils, be sure to wash both thoroughly with soap and warm water to avoid transfer of disease-causing microbes. When switching between preparing raw meat or poultry to produce, be sure to wipe down all kitchen countertops with soap and warm water. Always wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling raw meat or poultry.

Food Safety Director

Proper Hand Washing

Q: I know proper hand washing is essential to prevent cross-contamination in my kitchen. Isn’t it enough to use hand sanitizer?

Hand sanitizer does not eliminate all types of germs. Proper hand washing is essential to kill bacteria that would otherwise be transferred to your food and cooking surfaces. Here are some basic hand-washing tips to remember:

  • Always wash your hands with soap and clean water before and after food preparation.
  • Rub your hands together to create a lather and scrub vigorously under warm running water for at least 20 seconds (think about the time it takes you to recite the alphabet song twice).
  • Rinse your hands well under running water and dry with a clean towel.
Food Safety Director

Spike in Number of Recalls

Q: There seems to be an increase in the number of recalls recently. Is there a reason for that?

The spike in recalls may give customers the impression that our country’s produce food safety practices are not working effectively, but the U.S. is actually one of the safest produce suppliers in the world. There are many reasons why there has been an increase in recalls. Listed below are three areas Markon has identified as major contributors:

  1. Technological Improvements
    • New technology has allowed microbiological laboratories to detect the smallest amount of contamination in a single sample of produce. A network of public health and food regulatory agency laboratories upload very specific information to a database (PulseNet), allowing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to quickly link hospital/medical reports of illnesses with products being tested. This has given the CDC the ability to pinpoint small-scale outbreaks that previously may not have been identified.
  2. Seasonal Elements
    • The data from major outbreaks linked to produce over the past six years clearly indicates a high percentage of occurrences in late summer and early fall.
      • Spinach – September 2006
      • Tomatoes – September 2006
      • Jalapeño/Serrano – April 2008
      • Alfalfa Sprouts – February 2009
      • Shredded Romaine – April 2010
      • Romaine – September 2011
      • Cantaloupes – September 2011
      • Cantaloupes – August 2012
    • Canada is experiencing a Salmonella outbreak that has been linked to mangoes imported from Mexico. There is also a multi-state outbreak occurring in the U.S., but it has not been confirmed that mangoes imported from Mexico are the source.
    • The science community has not been able to isolate the exact reason for the increase in outbreaks during the late summer and fall months, but the data supports this is a time frame when foodborne pathogens are typically detected in higher percentages.
  3. Increased Testing for Listeria
    • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Microbiological Data Program (USDA MDP) have increased testing for Listeria monocytogenes.
    • Following the Jensen Farm’s cantaloupe outbreak of September 2011, Listeria testing was focused mainly on pre-cut products, not on whole head/commodity products. Tests are now performed on whole head/commodity products as well as ready-to-eat items. The FDA has a zero-tolerance policy for Listeria in ready-to-eat products (if one cell of Listeria is detected, a hold is placed on the product). On the other hand, Canada has a non-zero risk policy which may allow up to 100 Listeria cells per gram of produce tested.
    • The number of tests conducted by the USDA MDP has increased dramatically, from 11,669 samples in 2008 to 16,896 samples in 2009. The number of items being tested also increased, from five (alfalfa sprouts, cantaloupe, lettuce, spinach, and tomatoes) to eight (cantaloupe, cilantro, green onions, hot peppers, lettuce, spinach, sprouts, and tomatoes).

President Obama’s projected budget for fiscal year 2013 would eliminate the USDA MDP. The program conducts test on retail shelves, as well as at the distributor and wholesale warehouse level. If a sample produces a single positive result for E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, or Listeria, all products from that lot are required to be recalled. Though countless recalls have ensued, not one death or even sickness has been attributed to products that tested positive during the 10+ years of the USDA MDP. The program has not ensured safer products for consumers.

Stemming from recent Listeria events, Markon is making improvements to our 5-Star Food Safety® Program. We are working with food safety consultants to create guidelines, and require our suppliers to establish a program of environmental microbiological testing for generic Listeria. This will ensure that our suppliers consider Listeria as an important pathogen that can easily establish in their facility and possibly cause a food borne illness outbreak.

Food Safety Director

Best if Used By Dates

Q: How long after the Best if Used By date on packaged salad is the product safe to consume?

A "Best if Used By” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date. Other items contain a “Use-By” date which is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The dates have been determined by the product manufacturer.

If a product is beginning to decay, has an unusual odor, or there is doubt by the consumer, it should not be eaten.

To read more about product dates, visit the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service site.

Food Safety Director

Markon's Farms & Growing Locations

Q: Where are your farms? And where is the produce grown?

Markon has been partnering with the finest growers in the produce industry for more than 25 years. We do not run our own farms, instead we work closely with companies that have been tilling the earth for generations, companies that have stellar records for flavor, quality, consistency, and food safety. When you buy fruits and vegetables through our Markon First Crop (MFC) and Ready-Set-Serve (RSS) brands, you get the confidence that they have been planted, grown, harvested, and processed under the strict requirements of our 5-Star Food Safety® Program.


Many of our cruciferous vegetable, lettuce, and leafy green grower-partners are based in California’s Salinas Valley, but transition to other fertile growing regions seasonally, such as Huron, Oxnard, and Santa Maria, California and Yuma, Arizona for access to the most ideal weather, as well as for healthy crop rotation practices. The majority of MFC Apples, Onions, and Potatoes are from the Northwest (Idaho, Oregon, and Washington), but our growers also harvest in California, New Mexico, and Texas during their seasonal shifts. The farms where our MFC Tomatoes are grown range from Florida up the East Coast to Virginia, depending on time of year, while our lemon and citrus growers are focused in Arizona and California. To view the complete list of our products, click here.

Food Safety Director


Q: Do you use sulfites in any of your Ready-Set-Serve Salad Blends?

None of our Ready-Set-Serve lettuce products, salads, or blends contain additives, preservatives (such as sulfites), or come in contact with any of the "Big Eight" allergens as identified in the "FDA Guidance Document for Food Investigators" (peanuts, fish, shell fish, dairy products, soy, eggs, wheat, and tree nuts).

Food Safety Director

Listeria and Symptoms

Q: What is Listeria and what are some of the symptoms?

Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium that can cause food poisoning. It can be found in foods such as fish, poultry, soft cheeses, fresh meat, processed meat, and raw vegetables. It can be potentially hazardous to populations whose immune systems are not strong such as the elderly, pregnant women, children, and fetuses. Symptoms of listeriosis, the disease caused by Listeria, include fever, muscle aches, nausea, and diarrhea.

Food Safety Director

Danger Zone

Q: What is the “Danger Zone”?

The danger zone is the term used to refer to the temperature range between 40°F and 140°F; within this range, pathogenic bacteria grow rapidly. Produce should be kept at 40°F or below to reduce the rate of bacterial growth and maintain freshness and quality. You can use a refrigerator thermometer to make sure your fridge is cooling at the correct temperature.

Food Safety Director

Wash Pre-Washed Lettuce?

Q: I have a bag of pre-washed lettuce. Should I rinse it again at home?

We recommend that you do not rinse pre-washed produce, as it is table-ready. Additional washing or rinsing at home may lead to cross-contamination if safe handling practices are not used.

Food Safety Director