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Flooded Produce? Food Safety!

This growing season has presented many challenges to home gardeners.  The swings in temperature and humidity have stressed trees and shrubs, and too much rain has inundated plants and flooded many vegetable beds.  If you are wondering if it’s safe to eat those water-logged vegetables, here are some things you should know. 

It’s important to remember that water can contain harmful bacteria such as E. coli or salmonella that can contaminate produce. If any edible portions of produce are touched by floodwater, it may be contaminated and should not be considered safe to eat.   

Bacteria or other pathogens are often invisible: having no color, taste or smell.  Once they contact produce, they can be nearly impossible to remove. Lots of fruits and veggies have rough skin (such as cantaloupe or strawberries) or folds (such as leafy greens) where pathogens can hide. Bacteria may be present on the surface of fruits and vegetables or may have entered the produce through cuts, stem scars, or splits caused by too much rain (tomatoes and melons).

Remember that it’s always better to err on the side of safety when it comes to foodborne illness! Foodborne illness can affect anybody, but some people are at much higher risk of serious illness or even death, particularly children, older people, pregnant women, and anybody with a weakened immune system.

For more information regarding flood contamination of produce, gardeners should refer to guidance from regulatory agencies such as the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA).

Visit Extension’s On-Farm Food Safety web page (www.extension.umn.edu/safety/growing-safe-food) to learn more about produce safety and risk reduction practices, to find upcoming training opportunities, or to contact the On-Farm Food Safety team.