Garden to Plate Safety

By Susan Littlefield

Handling fruits and vegetables safely doesn't just apply to preservation methods. It starts right when we harvest our fresh produce. Keeping food safe from garden to plate is especially important if you use manure as a source of organic matter in your garden. This is because manure can be a source of the bacterium E. coli O157:H7, a relatively new and especially virulent strain of this pathogen.

J.G. Davis, Extension Soil Specialist, and P. Kendall, Extension Food Safety Specialist, both at Colorado State University (CSU), offer helpful advice on avoiding .E. coli contamination on garden produce in the CSU Extension fact sheet Preventing E.coli from Garden to Plate.

Some of their suggestions include locating your garden where there is the lowest possibility of contamination from fresh manure and manure-containing runoff, including runoff from uphill neighbors; keeping pets, livestock, and wildlife out of the garden with fencing; avoiding the use of fresh manure in the garden and never using aged manure on growing crops; composting manure correctly to minimize risks; making sure the water used to irrigate the garden is free from contamination; washing hands, clothing, shoes, and any garden tools that have been in contact with manure; and washing all produce well before preparing or eating it.

They note that recent studies have shown that soaking in vinegar is an effective way to reduce E. coli O157:H7 on fresh produce such as lettuce and apples. Just soak the produce in distilled white vinegar for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then rinse well with clear tap water.

To find out more about keeping your garden harvest safe from E.coli, go to: CSU Extension.

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