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6 steps to home gardening food safety

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With the scare of food borne illness in our food supply again, it is important that extra precautions be taken when harvesting your own garden’s crops this year.

1 To begin with, lay out the garden so that it is away from manure piles, well caps, garbage cans, septic systems. It is a good idea to put up a barrier between the garden and roaming wildlife, farm animals and the family pets. These barriers can be fencing or noise deterrents which will discourage wild animals from nesting near the garden.

2 Some gardeners choose to use composting materials they have done themselves. Before adding it to the garden area, make sure that composting materials are of plant origin and did not have any human or animal waste, meat or dairy scraps and reached a minimum temperature of 130 degrees. If not, this will cause problems. Use only potable water to irrigate garden. Surface water from lakes, ponds, rivers and streams can be polluted by human sewage or animal waste, fertilizers and pesticides from lawns and farm fields, or chemicals from local industry. If you use well water, have it tested annually for microbial and chemical quality, to prevent contamination.

3 Once the produce begins to develop, it is then time to think about what to safely collect the harvest in. To keep foods from becoming contaminated, use only recently cleaned and sanitized food-grade containers to collect food from garden. Food-grade containers are made from materials designed specifically to safely hold food. Do not use garbage bags, trash cans, or any containers that are not food-grade. Many garbage bags have been treated with pesticides. Wash your hands with soap and water and use new clean gloves to pick produce from garden. Watch using old gloves that have been used in other gardening chores like composting or pulling weeds. Excess garden soil and debris can be removed from produce with a clean brush and fresh potable water before bringing it into the kitchen. The water temperature should not be more than 10 degrees colder than the produce.

4 Once the produce has been cleaned up, they must be thorough washed dried with a clean paper towel before storage in a clean dry bin. Fruits and vegetables needing refrigeration can be stored at 40 degrees or less. Produce such as tomatoes, onions or potatoes can be stored at room temperature but should be in a cool, dry, pest-free, well-ventilated area separate from household chemicals.

5 We should always keep in mind that raw produce can be contaminated with potentially dangerous bacteria at any point. Proper hand washing with soap and water is the primary control to reduce bacterial contamination. To reduce potential contamination fruit and vegetables should be rinsed with cool water and any remaining soil should be removed with a clean and sanitized brush specific for this purpose.

6 Sanitizing fruits and vegetables is only recommended for people that have special medical conditions that have left them with a compromised immunity. Regardless of sanitizing method used, produce must be first be washed and scrubbed before applying a sanitizing solution. Vegetables such as cabbage, celery, lettuce or green onions must be torn apart so that all surfaces are exposed to the solution. After the prescribed sanitizing treatment, treated produce must be rinsed with potable water before consumption. These sanitizing treatments are especially developed for foods and work well to sanitize foods. By no means should a chlorine solution be used to sanitize any food item. The chlorine solution is known to be toxic.

This information was taken from Nancy Flores, Food Technology Specialist for New Mexico State University. For more information on foods and nutrition or other topics, please contact the Lea County Extension Office at 575-396-2819. Lea County Extension Service and New Mexico State University are an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.

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