Produce from flooded gardens may be contaminated

Produce from flooded gardens may be contaminated Vegetables from gardens that were recently flooded may not be safe to eat, South Dakota State University specialists said.

SDSU Extension Horticulture Specialist Rhoda Burrows said depending on the location, floodwaters may contain contaminants such as agricultural or other chemicals, as well as disease-causing organisms from fresh manure, septic systems, and even lagoons.

SDSU Extension Food Safety Specialist Joan Hegerfeld said foodborne illness has been associated with garden vegetables contaminated with flood waters containing pathogenic bacteria, parasites and viruses. The contamination on a flooded garden can be at very dangerous levels.

"Any leafy greens that are eaten fresh, such as lettuce or cabbage, should be destroyed," Burrows said.

Greens that will be cooked, such as spinach, should be cut back completely and allowed to regrow before using, Burrows advised. Cook them thoroughly before using. Strawberries should be picked and discarded for at least 60 days following flood contamination, Burrows added.

"Any peas, beans, squash, or tomatoes present on their plants should also be picked now and discarded," Burrows said. She added that any of these vegetables that contact the ground during the two months following the flood should be either discarded, or peeled and thoroughly cooked.

Underground vegetables such as carrots and potatoes, should also be peeled and thoroughly cooked. Thoroughly wash produce with thick outer rinds, such as melons and squash, before cutting open.

Don't attempt to make an unsafe flooded garden product safe by using a fruit and vegetable spray, chlorine bleach, or any other product, Hegerfeld said. Home canning or freezing of flooded garden produce is not recommended � always start with a safe quality product.

Gardeners should keep

in mind that although pathogens will eventually die out, they can remain present in the soil for several months. If the homeowner knows the area was contaminated with feedlot or septic overflow, it is recommended that no produce be used from the garden for 60 to 90 days. Soil or produce samples can also be submitted to a commercial testing laboratory to verify the presence or absence of pathogens, Burrows added.

Call your county Extension office for more information.

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