Food Safety in the Garden:
Clean hands, clean surfaces, clean harvests, clean soil and clean water
By Ashley Andrews, Horticulture Assistant and Liz Morrow, Certified Master Gardener Volunteer
Many Nevadans live in food deserts, or areas that have limited access to affordable and quality fresh foods. Since we live in food deserts, it is even more important for stewards of Nevada gardens to take food safety seriously. We need the fresh food we do have access to, the fresh food we grow, to be safe for us eat.
For safe harvests, gardeners must follow a set of risk-reduction steps known as good agricultural practices (GAPs). These steps, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), are the best way to protect against foodborne illness-causing pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella.
While many GAP standards focus on commercial production, these tips are also essential to food safety in home, school and community gardens:
- Clean Hands– While working in the garden or handling garden produce, clean and sanitize your hands often by washing them with soap and clean, running water. Then, dry your hands with a paper towel. The safety risk of not washing and drying your hands is the spreading of potentially harmful microorganisms and cross-contamination.
- Clean Surfaces– Just as with your hands, it is imperative to clean and sanitize counters, cutting boards, kitchen scissors and garden shears. Wash and sanitize equipment using a gallon of water treated with a tablespoon of bleach. The safety risk of not washing these items is that they can harbor pathogens.
- Clean Harvest– While harvesting, wear one-use only gloves. Place harvested produce into clean and sanitized separate containers or bags for each crop, and store in a cool, pest-free area. Wait to wash produce until it is time to be consumed. The use of fruit and vegetable washes has not been evaluated, tested or endorsed by the FDA.
- Clean Soil– Composting is a great step in reducing environmental impact while providing nutrients to our plants. However, the composting process must be managed to ensure that pathogens will not spread to other parts of the garden and will not survive the pile. Safe composters place compost bins as far from the garden and downhill as possible and monitor its temperature.
- Clean Water– Reduce the potential for microbial contamination of fruits and vegetables by using a regulated and treated water source when growing, cleaning and preparing produce. The use of non-potable water can introduce pathogens.
Remember clean hands, clean surfaces, clean harvest, clean soil and clean water to be a food-safe gardener. Then, bring food safety to the kitchen by using a food thermometer and refrigerating leftovers promptly.
Ashley Andrews is the Horticulture Assistant and Liz Morrow is a Certified Master Gardener Volunteer with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. For information on food safety in the garden, contact a Master Gardener at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-336-0265. For information on upcoming Grow Your Own, Nevada! landscaping, lawn and garden classes, visit www.growyourownnevada.com.