Five Steps to Food Safe Fruit
and Vegetable Home

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Garden to Table:
Five Steps to Food Safe Fruit
and Vegetable Home Gardening

By Catherine Violette, Food and Nutrition Specialist
UNH Cooperative Extension

The summer growing season is nearly in full production – including home
gardens.  Whether you planted the entire backyard or have a few tomato plants
in containers, it’s important to consider the safety of food when you garden.

To help home gardeners weave food safety into gardening practices, UNH
Cooperative Extension has been participating, along with Cooperative
Extensions in three other New England states, in a grant-funded project lead by
the University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension. Home gardeners were
surveyed and interviewed to determine food safety knowledge.

Using the results as a guide, the Garden to Table program was developed to
help home gardeners keep food safe.       

The Garden to Table program focuses on five simple steps to help you reduce
the risk of foodborne illness when you grow fruits and vegetables in your home
garden.  These steps are listed below.

Step 1 – Prepare the Garden for Planting

> Locate your vegetable garden away from manure piles, well caps, garbage
cans, septic systems and areas where wildlife, farm animals or the family pet

> Use compost safely. To be safe for gardening, your compost must reach a
temperature of at least 130° F. Check the temperature with a compost
thermometer. Don’t use animal waste, including pet waste, meat scraps or dairy
product waste in your compost bin.

Step 2 – Maintain the Garden

> Be familiar with the quality and safety of the water source you use in your
garden. If you get your water from a municipal or public water system, you can
be sure it’s safe and drinkable. If you use well water, be sure to test your water
at least once a year to make sure it meets the Environmental Protection Agency

> During the gardening season, keep cats, dogs and other pets out of the garden.

> Curtail nesting and hiding places for rats and mice by minimizing vegetation
at the edges of your garden.

> Don’t feed wild animals, even birds, near your garden.

Step 3 – Harvest Garden Produce

> Use clean, food-grade containers. Food-grade containers are made from
materials designed specifically to safely hold food. Garbage bags, trash cans
and any containers that originally held chemicals such as household cleaners or
pesticides aren’t food-grade.

> Use clean gloves (that have not been used to stir compost or pull weeds) or
clean hands when picking produce.

> Brush, shake or rub off any excess garden soil or debris before bringing
produce into the kitchen.

Step 4 – Storing Garden Produce

> If you choose to wash fruits and vegetables before storing, be sure to dry
them thoroughly with a clean paper towel. Be sure to wash berries immediately
before eating or cooking.

> If you choose to store without washing, shake, rub or brush off any garden
soil with a paper towel or soft brush while still outside. Store unwashed
produce in plastic bags or containers.

> Keep fruit and vegetable bins in your refrigerator clean.

> When washing produce fresh from the garden, the rinse water should not be
more than 10 degrees colder than the produce. If you are washing refrigerated
produce, use cold water.

> Fruits and vegetables needing refrigeration can be stored at 40° F. or less.

> Fruits and vegetables stored at room temperature (onions, potatoes) should
be in a cool, dry, pest-free, well-ventilated area separate from household

Step 5 – Preparing and Serving Fresh Garden Produce

Delicious garden produce is often eaten raw so it’s important to prepare raw
fruits and vegetables with food safety in mind.

> Always wash your hands before handling raw fruits and vegetables.

> Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under cool, running, clean water even if you
don’t eat the skin or rind.

> Never use soap, detergent, or bleach solution to wash fruits and vegetables.
These products can affect flavor and may not be safe to ingest.

> Avoid cross-contamination when preparing fruits and vegetables. Clean work
surfaces, utensils, and hands before and after handling fruits and vegetables.

> If you have leftover produce that has been cut, sliced, or cooked, store it in a
clean, air-tight container in the refrigerator at 40° F or less.

If you want to preserve your garden produce to enjoy throughout the year, be
sure to go to the
National Center for Home Food Preservation website for tested
techniques and recipes.  

Contact UNH Cooperative Extension’s Family, Home, and Garden Education Center
Info Line at 1-877-398-4769 from 9 am to 2 pm Monday through Friday for answers to
your food safety and food preservation questions or for more information about the Garden
to Table program.
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