Heavy rains followed by flooding can negatively affect plants in the garden. When plants are exposed to floodwater for prolonged periods of time the roots are deprived of oxygen and the plants can suffocate and die. For vegetables and other tender plants, several days of flooding can cause rapid rotting and death. In addition, contamination of fruits and vegetables by floodwater can create a food safety hazard.
Floodwaters commonly contain microbial contaminants and can directly affect public health. Microbial contaminants may include bacteria, viruses and parasites. Common foodborne pathogens reported in floodwater include norovirus, Salmonella, Escherichia coli, Cryptosporidium and Giardia. Following Hurricane Katrina, fecal coliform concentrations increased in floodwater at all locations tested in New Orleans. Floodwater exposed to raw sewage, farm animals (such as chickens or goats), river or pond water and agricultural runoff is likely to carry harmful pathogens and parasites and thus spread health risks to fresh produce in your home garden.
Growing fruits and vegetables in a home, school or community garden has many healthful benefits. Gardening can reduce stress, improve mental clarity, increase physical activity and increase awareness of healthy nutrition. However, there are potential food safety challenges that should be addressed when growing fruits and vegetables. From the garden to the kitchen, there are many opportunities for bacteria, viruses and parasites to contaminate your produce. Bacteria such as Salmonella, pathogenic E. coli and Listeria monocytogenes and viruses such as norovirus are commonly linked to contaminated fresh produce. These pathogens can be a problem whether you are using organic or conventional gardening methods. Dirty water, soil, soil amendments, animals, gardening tools and peoples’ hands are potential sources of these harmful bacteria and viruses. In addition, damaged or decaying produce provide conditions that can support the growth of human pathogens. Simple practices can be used in the garden to reduce the risks of produce contamination and prevent foodborne illnesses.