produceNew Jersey is warning consumers to be on the lookout for sweet corn and other produce bearing labels that say it was grown in the Garden State when, in fact, it was not.

The warning came June 17, the same day that the state announced the start of blueberry season. New Jersey grew 53 million pounds of the fruit last year and is one of the top producers in the nation.

What prompted the warning was that the state Department of Agriculture was given a store advertisement several weeks ago for a northern New Jersey grocery store that claimed "Yellow NJ Corn" for sale. Trouble was, that crop wouldn't be ready for another four to six weeks. The state says the earliest harvest date is July 1.

"When someone misbrands or mislabels produce as being 'Jersey Fresh' or otherwise from New Jersey when it really isn't, consumers can be fooled into buying products that really don't come from New Jersey, our farmers are cheated out of their most important markets," state Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Alfred W. Murray said in a statement.

Department of Agriculture spokesman Jeff Beach tells Consumer Ally that shoppers can avoid being misled by checking the state Department of Agriculture's harvest dates availability chart to find out when genuine New Jersey produce will be available.

New Jersey sent out letters to stores and farmers markets to make sure the merchants accurately label farm produce. If inspectors catch markets mislabeling produce -- a violation of the state's consumer fraud act -- they risk a $10,000 fine for the first offense.

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