Now that last week’s hurricane/tropical storm is over and most of us are clearly in clean-up/recovery mode, I received an email from our local Master Gardener about the safety of flooded produce. This was something that wasn’t even on my radar so I wonder how many other folks are thinking about this. I know I had been reading in my local/regional paper, The Hartford Courant, about how many of the state farmers either had harvested what the could before the storm, or were going to take huge losses now.
But I hadn’t thought about the crops that were and are still in the ground. This of course includes things like corn, tomatoes, pumpkins, squash and many other late season edibles. My Master Gardener contact insists that any produce intended for consumption must be destroyed–and that would include the pumpkins because of the dangers of cross-contamination when you cut it.
The University of Massachusetts is a little more forgiving. Here is their Fact Sheet for growers. It’s obviously intended more for the commercial grower and it is intended to minimize loss, of course. In brief, it suggests that the dangers of e.coli are minimized after several dry days, and that any dangers can be further lessened by washing durable crops with a dilute solution of bleach in water.
The FDA is not nearly so forgiving. It does not recommend any of the methods endorsed by UMass and in fact it lays out four scenarios and then goes on to debunk those scenarios. The washing/disinfecting scenarios is one of the fact patterns that is specifically rejected by the FDA as unsafe.
Another possible concern is with root crops (and crops with peel, as I discussed in the pumpkin example, above) is that once they are contaminated on the outside, you will contaminate the “good” part of the crop by trying to remove the “bad” either by washing, peeling, cutting or whatever.
Finally, as we know from previous contamination cases, cooking does not usually solve e.coli unless the cooking is above 165 degrees and most veggies are not cooked that thoroughly unless they are boiled–and the dangers of cross-contamination still remain.
So it’s a question of what your garden is worth to you if indeed it has been flooded–and by what. Standing rainwater is fine. Floodwater, on the other hand, could carry pathogens, microbes or both that could infect your crops. While it’s heartbreaking to have to destroy your harvest, I suspect it might be worse to be sickened by it.