Garden calendar: For the week of Sept. 2
Flooded vegetable gardens: With all the flooding occurring around the state, there are now food safety issues in vegetable gardens. The UW-Extension food safety specialist has written a fact sheet titled “Safely Using Produce from Flooded Gardens”available at https://pddc.wisc.edu under the fact sheets tab.
Whether you can use the produce depends on a number of factors, but particularly, how “clean” the flood water was. If it is likely to have been contaminated with sewage, river or creek water, farm run-off or industrial pollutants, the safest action is to discard all produce that was touched by flood water. Definitely all leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, kale, etc. should be discarded from any flooded field.
Some produce can be cooked to ensure safety. This is the best choice if anything touched by flood water will be served to those most at risk from microbial food-borne illnesses: young children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems.
However, cooking won’t eliminate contamination from industrial pollutants, and produce that isn’t fit for eating should not be preserved by canning, freezing, drying, etc.
Above-ground fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes are often above the level of flood waters, but would be splashed with rain or flood water. If a consumer wishes, they can rinse this produce with clean water, rinse in a dilute bleach solution (1 tablespoon bleach per gallon of water), peel and cook it. These crops should not be eaten raw at this time if there was standing water or flooding in the field, even if the fruits are above the water level.
Underground crops (beets, carrots, potatoes) or thick-skinned above ground crops harvested from fields where heavy rain occurred should, if harvested within the next 3-4 weeks, be rinsed with clean water to remove dirt, rinsed in a dilute bleach solution and peeled before cooking.
If the time between flooding and harvest is more than 3-4 weeks, you are basically treating the items as you normally would, and the chlorine bleach rinse can safely be omitted.
Once we get about 2 weeks out from flooding, assuming we have had nice sunny, warm weather, it should be OK to eat tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables that were above flood waters raw, BUT you still need to rinse the fruits and vegetables well before consuming or preparing.