The rainy weather has slowed the gardening season a little this spring, but when you get back to completing spring gardening think safety, too.
When most people think about growing vegetables and fruit safely, the first thing that comes to mind is the safe use of chemicals in their garden or orchard. It is important to read and follow pesticide labels if you choose to use them in your garden.
On pesticide labels, read the directions for use to determine how much to use, whether it is labelled for use on the vegetables or fruits you plan to apply it to, and when you should stop using it prior to harvesting. The label will also tell you how to use it correctly to protect yourself and the environment.
Another safety consideration in the garden is food safety regarding bacterial contamination on your vegetables and fruits. Commercial growers develop a farm food safety plan that includes both a section on pest management strategies, but also practices to reduce risks from bacterial contamination from planting to harvesting.
If you have a garden or orchard you can apply some of the food safety practices used by commercial growers.
Let’s consider fertilization of your crop. If you use manure as a fertilizer source the best management practice to reduce contamination of your vegetables would be to apply manure in the fall. Manure should not be applied during the growing season, because of potential bacterial contamination of vegetables. You can also introduce bacteria into your garden by wearing the same shoes or boots used in your livestock barn or by using tools and equipment that have been exposed to manure.
The containers you put vegetables and fruit into during harvest and any harvesting tools such as knives should be clean and disinfected. You probably wouldn’t use a dirty knife or bowl to prepare food for dinner so just extend that line of thinking to your garden.
In the kitchen you wash your hands prior to food preparation, do the same thing before you head out to harvest vegetables. Clean hands and harvesting equipment reduces the risk of introducing bacteria onto your fruit and vegetables. This is referred to as cross contamination.
Washing your vegetables and fruit a final time prior to food preparation is another important step in food safety. A good approach to washing vegetables and fruit is to rinse, not soak them in a container of water. Bacteria in a container of water can enter the fruit or vegetable when they are soaked in a tub of water. The risk of this occurring depends on the type of fruit, and differences in the temperature of the water and the fruit.
All of this may seem like a lot to consider, but if you just apply the practices you already use in the kitchen to the garden, you will be using many of the practices commercial vegetable and fruit producers use to keep your food supply safe.
If you have gardening questions this growing season, contact the University of Illinois Extension office in Charleston at 217-345-7034.
For more information on University of Illinois Extension programming in Coles, Cumberland, Douglas, Moultrie and Shelby counties, visit our website at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/ccdms/index.html or call us at 217-345-7034.