UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The recent tomato contamination outbreak has many people thinking about growing their own garden-fresh fruits and vegetables. But a food-safety specialist in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences says it’s not where the produce is grown, but how it’s grown, so amateur cultivators should know a few important tips about home-garden food safety.
Since many of the bacteria and parasites that make people sick are transmitted through animal and human waste, it’s important to protect the garden from wild animals and household pets, said Luke LaBorde, associate professor of food science.
While people are sharing their harvest with them, they could be sharing potential illnesses via saliva and droppings.
“It’s just common sense,” LaBorde said. “We don’t want droppings to contact the produce, particularly if we’re going to be eating it raw — which we often are.
“Treat your garden like something you want to eat,” he added. “You don’t want birds and animals snooping around your food. Deer are cute, and they’ll be attracted to your lettuce and green peppers. But they’ll leave something behind, so try to divert them to another area.”
LaBorde said it’s also important to keep cats, dogs and other pets out of the garden. While people might think they’re sampling the fresh, young plants, pets may see the garden patch as a litter box.
“During the growing and harvesting seasons, especially, you have to keep a watchful eye,” LaBorde warned.
“People who grow fruits and vegetables at home should be aware of good agricultural practices, such as washing their hands after harvesting and avoiding using composted animal manure in their gardens, especially dog and cat droppings. They contain parasites that aren’t killed by the composting process.”
After harvesting fruits and vegetables, use the standard food-safety practices recommended for any home kitchen.
For tips on composting, contact the county Penn State Cooperative Extension office. For more information on vegetable garden food safety, visit the Penn State Food Safety Web site at http://foodsafety.psu.edu/gaps.