We usually pay much attention to the big produce outbreaks–the headline grabbing, multistate, everyone-stops-buying-spinach kind of outbreak–but there is always a possibility that pathogens can find their way onto homegrown veggies. The National Gardening Association expects 7 million new gardeners this year, a 19 percent increase from 2008, likely due to the economy and the buzz generated by Michelle Obama’s White House garden. In light of this growth, it’s the perfect time to highlight some important food safety tips that every gardener should be aware of. Of course, fresh produce, no matter where it comes from, is never completely risk-free, but these tips can greatly improve your chance of ensuring pathogen-free homegrown fruits and vegetables:
- Always wash your hands before harvesting food, and after working in the garden (paying special attention to fingernails).
- Be aware of potential petting zoo (or pets like turtles, cats, rabbits, chicks, etc.)-to-child-to garden contamination
- Clean all harvesting gear–gloves, containers, clippers, etc.
- Minimize animal fecal contamination by keeping pets, ducks, chickens, geese and deer out of your garden.
- Minimize vegetation at the perimeter of your garden to lessen nesting places for rodents
- Keep decaying fruit and vegetables out of the garden to avoid attracting rodents
- Pick “green manure” (plant based) over raw animal manure–green manure or properly heat treated manure fertilizers are “unlikely to be a source of microbial pathogens” according to researchers at UC Davis.
- Do not leave manure fertilizer on the surface of your garden, mix it into the soil, do not apply manure after seeding or transplanting edible plants.
- If you use compost in the garden, don’t include pet waste, meat scraps or dairy in the compost bin.
- Keep bird feeders far away from your garden
(Adapted from Food Safety Tips for Your Edible Home Garden, Western Institute for Food Safety and Security, University of California, Davis)