Good hygiene, sanitation of equipment, and proper storage and preparation of your harvest will ensure a great fall gardening season. (Photo: Nanee Khounphixay)

“When the world wearies… there is always the garden.” -Minnie Aumonier

As we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re learning how to slow down and find joy in new hobbies and socially distanced activities.

For many of us, this involves restoring the old, weedy garden or starting one up for the first time. And whether you’ve been gardening for years or you’re a complete newbie, it’s always rewarding to watch your plants grow into fresh ingredients for a home cooked meal.

When you think “home-grown,” you probably think fresh, organic, and clean. But we often forget to treat our plants like what they are — food. This means that yes, food safety principles apply to your home garden. And if we have learned anything from the pandemic, we know to be more cautious when it comes to our health.

Why practice food safety?

Food safety is important in both your kitchen and garden to help prevent foodborne illness. Foodborne illnesses are caused by consuming contaminated foods that contain pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and parasites. And when poor hygiene and unsafe food practices come together on a large scale, an outbreak is inevitable.

Think back to our most recent outbreak in 2019; romaine lettuce grown in Salinas Valley, California, was contaminated by the bacteria E. coli from waste runoff. This resulted in 167 reported cases of infection across 27 states (CDC, 2020), demonstrating how one small incidence of contamination can quickly and easily spread. And even if your garden doesn’t size up to Salinas Valley, food safety principles apply to all foods, all the time.

So, if you are thinking about planting cool season vegetables such as arugula, lettuce, spinach, and kale this fall, you will want to make sure your harvests are safe to eat!

Here are tips for every stage of your gardening journey:

The take home message is that we should treat our garden harvests just like we’d treat produce from the grocery store. If you practice good hygiene and proper storage and preparation principles, you should have a great fall gardening season.

Nanee Khounphixay (Photo: IFAS)

Nanee Khounphixay is a graduate student and dietetic intern studying Nutrition Science at Florida State University and a volunteer writer for UF/IFAS Extension Leon County, an Equal Opportunity Institution. For gardening questions, email the extension office at [email protected]

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