Whether you’re growing tomatoes in your backyard or have a ten-acre field of sweet potatoes, food safety should be a concern. When we garden, we don’t often think about the risks associated with paying little attention to food safety. We expect produce purchased from a grocery store or local market to be safely handled and ready for human consumption, so why not have the same standards for your home garden?
Here are a few rules to follow to ensure food safety in your garden:
1. Always wash your hands!
Proper hand-washing is essential for keeping pathogens off of your produce whenever handling the fruits. Gloves can carry pathogens on them, so unless you’re washing your gloves as well as you do your hands, gloves are not a great way to prevent contamination. Using hand sanitizer is also not effective. Unlike hand sanitizer, properly washing your hands with warm water and soap allows for germs to be reached in the groves of your skin. The soap breaks the surface tension of the water and the friction you create from scrubbing removes grime. Here a quick refresher of proper hand-washing procedure:
- Wet your hands with warm, clean water
- Apply soap to hands and lather by rubbing them together
- Scrub your hands all over for 30 seconds (sing the Happy Birthday song twice)
- Don’t forget the backs of your hands, fingertips, and fingernails
- Rinse your hands
- Dry hands with paper towel (this is more sanitary than a dish towel or air dryer)
- Turn off faucet with the paper towel
For more information on hand washing: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html
2. Keep animals out of the garden.
We love our pets, but our gardens are no place for animals. Pets and wildlife have the potential to spread pathogens to produce very easily through saliva and feces. Here are a few ways to help keep wildlife from contaminating your garden:
- Fence in your garden to keep out larger wildlife such as deer
- Use spray repellents that replicate odors such as coyote urine (can be purchased at garden supply stores)
- Utilize raised beds for your vegetable plants to keep smaller animals such as rabbits and mice from getting to your plants
- Cover your garden with fabric, chicken wire, netting, or grow in a hoop house
- Grow plants that naturally repel animals such as azaleas, boxwood, daffodils, and marigolds
3. Use easy to clean equipment.
When using equipment in your garden, make sure you choose ones that are easy to clean. Stainless steel trowels, shovels, and hoes allow soil to slide off easily and make gardening a lot easier in general. Clean your equipment with household cleaners after use and storage.
4. Avoid contact between plants and your shoes.
Nothing makes me cringe more than seeing a trailer full of beautiful crops with someone standing in the trailer with it. Shoes are probably the least clean clothing item we wear, especially if you’re working in a garden. Once you let your shoes touch your produce, all the germs from everywhere you’ve been with those shoes are now on your food. This is really simple to avoid. Watch where you’re stepping in your garden and please, never stand on top of your crops on purpose.
5. Make sure everyone is aware of your rules.
Your garden, your rules! To make sure your garden is following food safety standards at all times, make sure your visitors are aware of these rules. This could be a good learning opportunity for anyone visiting your garden and ensures your produce is staying as safe as possible.
For more information on food safety: https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/communication/steps-healthy-fruits-veggies.html