Heavy rains can contaminate garden plants and create a food safety hazard

The flooding and heavy rains that we have gotten around Waushara County in August and September present a problem for the home gardener. Many crops are at, or are approaching, peak ripeness and it’s not feasible to let produce mature for another 2-3 months while pathogens die through natural exposure to sunlight and the environment. The question then becomes: how do I salvage as much garden produce as possible from a garden exposed to late-season flooding?

As floodwater moves into your garden, it can carry raw sewage overflow, farm and domestic animal waste, river or pond water, and agricultural run-off, all of which can be sources of human pathogens such as norovirus, Salmonella, and pathogenic E. coli. Gardeners and other people who mishandle and/or consume fresh produce exposed to floodwater are at risk of gastrointestinal illnesses, with symptoms such as vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea.

If rain, and only rain, fell on your garden, you can continue to enjoy the bounty of the season. However, if your garden was reached by flood waters from a nearby stream or lake, or if flowing water carried animal waste or possible contaminants from nearby fields or compost piles, garden produce may be risky to consume.


Discard produce that has come into direct contact with floodwater

Dr. Barbara Ingham, UW – Extension food scientist, recommends a conservative approach for what to do if flood waters enter your garden. This solution is to destroy any produce that comes into direct contact with floodwater. Any produce that is meant to be eaten raw should not be consumed. This means that crops such as lettuce and other leafy greens should discarded. While some thick-skinned crops may be able to be salvaged (see below), any soft fruits such as raspberries or blackberries which are impossible to clean should also be discarded and soft-skinned crops such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants should be destroyed. Cantaloupe and other netted melons present a higher risk to human health and the safest action is to discard these crops as well.


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